Nyquist, who stands as this year’s Triple Crown threat after winning the 142nd Kentucky Derby by 1 1/4 lengths Saturday, heads towards the Preakness Stakes as the favorite, thanks to his trainer’s unique regiment and the resurgence of his jockey’s career.
The 3-year-old colt, sired by Uncle Mo, didn’t disappoint on the big stage, staying near the top of the Derby pack before jockey Mario Gutierrez roared him down the backstretch to beat out top threats Exaggerator and Gun Runner.
Now, with the Preakness less than two weeks away at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Nyquist hopes to repeat American Pharoah’s Triple Crown victory from a year ago behind two-time Derby winners in trainer Doug O’Neill and Gutierrez.
After arriving in Baltimore Monday, the early odds suggest Las Vegas believes Nyquist has a strong shot to win the Preakness and even the Belmont Stakes to complete a second straight Triple Crown.
Only once have their been consecutive Triple Crown victors, when Seattle Slew and Affirmed completed the feat in 1977 and 1978, respectively. Yet Bovada.lv gave Nyquist -140 odds to claim the Preakness and +120 odds for the Belmont. Overall, the odds Nyquist actually completes the Triple Crown are a reasonable +200.
Much of those odds may rest in O’Neill’s endurance-based, rather than speed-centered, regiment. According to The Courier-Journal, O’Neill puts Nyquist through long workouts meant for endurance, blending “strenuous gallop days with lighter jogs.”
It’s a regiment that seems perfect for a feat such as the Triple Crown, considering the shorter time between races and the eventual 1 1/2-mile blitz around the Belmont that so often tires even the world’s best thoroughbreds.
The relatively hopeful odds may also have to do with the field Nyquist will likely face at the Preakness. Nyquist has defeated Exaggerator in all four of their meetings, and the son of Curlin is expected to point to Pimlico along with third-place Derby finisher Gun Runner, ninth-placer Lani, and fifth-placer Suddenbreakingnews. Nyquist will, however, likely face two newcomers in the 14-deep field, Laoban and Cherry Wine, who would’ve ran at the Derby if there had been any scratches.
And of course, Nyquist will have Gutierrez aboard after the Mexico native resurrected his career. The 28-year-old went through a rough patch after riding O’Neill’s I’ll Have Another to glory at the 2012 Derby, dealing with losing streaks that affected his confidence.
However, at the encouragement of his wife, Gutierrez has enlisted the help of a sports psychologist, nutritionist, and a flexibility trainer to help him advance his career. And now, confidence in himself and in Nyquist, isn’t lacking.
“American Pharoah proved there can be a Triple Crown winner, even though before everybody said we would never see another Triple Crown winner,” Gutierrez said to The Globe and Mail before this year’s Derby. “I have 100 percent confidence that Nyquist can make an even bigger impact.”