While the full field is still unclear, at least horse racing’s supporters know they will see a rubber match between Kentucky Derby victor Nyquist and Preakness Stakes spoiler Exaggerator at the 148th Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 11th at Belmont Park in New York.
Making a late charge under extremely sloppy conditions, Exaggerator snapped his four-race losing streak to former Triple Crown threat Nyquist with a 3 1/2-length victory at the Preakness and both are expected to point to the $1.5 million Belmont. The track’s official site said Nyquist was sent to the Belmont on Monday, while Exaggerator is scheduled to be transported in a week’s time.
The Belmont also announced that several recent contenders from both the Derby and Preakness are expected to challenge Nyquist and Exaggerator for a share of the glory during Triple Crown season.
Though the field could branch out to as many as 16 contenders at the starting gate, the likes of Preakness runner-up Cherry Wine, owner Koji Maeda’s Lani, trainer Todd Pletcher’s Destin, Suddenbreakingnews, and Brody’s Cause are pointing towards the Belmont.
All five have either run the Derby and or the Preakness, but have unfortunately run up against the highly and deservedly lauded Nyquist and Exaggerator. Still, all but one has at least one high-profile stakes victory under their saddle.
Cherry Wine, the only exception, showed at the Blue Grass Stakes (Grade 1) and placed at the Preakness. Lani took down the UAE Derby (G2) in Dubai in March, Destin claimed the Sam F. Davis (G3) and the Tampa Bay Derby before slipping to sixth at Churchill Downs, Suddenbreakingnews won the Southwest Stakes (G3), and Brody’s Cause had impressive wins at the Breeders Futurity (G1) and the Blue Grass.
Sired by Curlin, Exaggerator hopes to be the first horse since Afleet Alex to lose the Derby but recover with wins at the Preakness and Belmont. Only 18 times in racing history has a horse claimed the last two jewels of the Triple Crown after dropping the Derby.
On the flip side, Nyquist, who’s still considered the best of all 3-year-old’s in the country, will try to recover and win the Belmont just like Thunder Gulch in 1995. Just 11 times has a Derby victor suffered a Preakness loss but turned things around at the Belmont.
Nyquist’s trainer Doug O’Neill admitted that Nyquist and Exaggerator have formed some sort of a rivalry.
"I think it's safe to say it's a rivalry because these two are very, very close in ability," O'Neill said to the Los Angeles Times. "Now that no one is going to sweep the Triple Crown, this is the rubber match. It's a very intriguing race."
O’Neill also took blame for the Preakness loss, while disparaging the idea that muddy conditions led to Nyquist’s downfall.
"Our strategy backfired and that's mostly on me," O'Neill said. "My level of confidence was so high that my instructions to [jockey] Mario [Gutierrez ] was to take it to them. Don't take any chances, even if it means being in front. … It wasn't Mario, it was me and it backfired."
Nyquist is currently at Pimlico battling a fever of over 102 degrees.