JIM MILLER

Preakness Preview: Nyquist Looking to Continue Dominance

Preakness Preview: Nyquist Looking to Continue Dominance

History in the making looks to continue on Saturday as the undefeated Nyquist looks for the second leg of the Triple Crown in the Preakness Stakes. Following in the footsteps of California Chrome and American Pharoah, Nyquist looks to be the third straight Kentucky Derby winner to head into the Belmont with Triple Crown aspirations.

Nyquist showed his dominance two weeks ago, as jockey Mario Gutierrez positioned him close to a quick early pace in the Kentucky Derby. When asked in the stretch, Nyquist responded, opening up two lengths and holding off the late move of Exaggerator to win by just over a length. The 2015 Champion two-year-old colt has gone three-for-three in 2016, and eight-for--eight on his career heading into the Preakness.

This second leg of the Triple Crown is the shortest of the three races, something that will likely help Nyquist with his close up running style. Surprisingly, only two other Derby participants come back in this second leg as Exaggerator and tenth-place finisher Lani are the only others making the quick, two-week between races, return.

Nyquist should get a very similar trip as he did in the Preakness in the Derby. The pace is likely to be quick once again as numerous horses could show early speed, led by the maiden Laoban. Expect Nyquist to rate in the clear within four to five lengths, and look to move into the stretch. Jockey Mario Gutierrez has been in a similar position before with I’ll Have Another and should know when to make his move on Saturday. If the track comes up sloppy, you may even see Nyquist closer to the early pace.

There are a few runners in with a chance to pull off the upset in the Preakness. Leading the way is the Derby runner-up Exaggerator for the Desormeaux brothers. While he may be better suited for the longer Belmont Stakes, he tries this leg with hopes of another swift early pace to close into. With rain in the forecast, the slop monster does move up, but it will also likely lower any value you may receive at the betting window. Exaggerator has a shot to turn the tables on Nyquist, the question is if 1 3/16 miles will be enough ground for him to do it.

A couple of newcomers for Hall of Fame trainers are also in the mix in the Preakness. Bob Baffert sends out Collected as he comes off three victories from four stakes starts on the year. Collected has some versatility as he could get a very similar trip to Nyquist in the Preakness. The decision will be left to jockey Javier Castellano as to when to move with Collected as he likely won’t allow Nyquist to get the early jump on him Saturday.

Trainer Todd Pletcher starts Stradivari from the outside with his go-to guy John Velazquez aboard. Stradivari is more of a wildcard in the Preakness as he has made only three career starts. This will be his first stakes start but he has shown that he is deserving of the opportunity.  He sprung onto the scene most recently as he blew away an allowance field at Keeneland by 14 lengths and has trained well into the Preakness.

In the end, can any of the other 10 entrants in the Preakness defeat Nyquist? Possibly, but it isn’t likely. Nyquist has handled everything tossed at him thus far in his career. He has shipped well, has handled different distances and weather conditions, and has won from on or off the pace. Looking at how things are expected to unfold in the Preakness, it looks like we will be cheering on another possible Triple Crown winner in three weeks.

Kentucky Derby ripe for an upset

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Kentucky Derby ripe for an upset

We have been very lucky, and spoiled as racing fans in recent years as we’ve gotten to see great stories play out right in front of us on Derby day and beyond. From the upset victory of 50-1 shot Mine That Bird in 2009, to California Chrome winning the first two legs of the Triple Crown in 2014, to a Triple Crown winner last year in American Pharoah, we have seen a bit of everything.

This year’s edition of the Derby brings intrigue as well. The Derby favorite, Nyquist, rolls into Louisville riding a seven-race win streak. His connections have been here before, as owner J. Paul Reddam, trainer Doug O’Neill, and jockey Mario Gutierrez teamed up for the Derby win in 2012 with I’ll Have Another. Nyquist has done nothing wrong either, winning from on or near the lead when the pace is slow to closing from a bit further back when the early pace was swift.  Everything is lined up for Nyquist to continue his winning ways, but this year the Derby will provide one thing, a ton of value.

[NBC SPORTS: Kentucky Derby All Access 2016]

While Nyquist may be the only undefeated horse entering the starting gate in the Derby on Saturday afternoon, he may also be the only horse that goes off at odds of less than 10-1. With value galore, here are my top five selections for the 2016 Kentucky Derby:

1. #17 Mor Spirit (12-1 odds)

Trainer Bob Baffert has been here before also. He saddled American Pharoah to his Triple Crown last year. He has also sent out Derby winners Silver Charm (1997), Real Quiet (1998), and War Emblem (2002). This year Mor Spirit flies under the radar. Never worse than second in seven lifetime races, Mor Spirit has the running style that may be most favorable this Saturday. While the early pace is unknown, the Derby does have its share of deep closers. Mor Spirit will likely sit in the second flight of horses early and avoid traffic late. He ran second in the slop at Churchill as a two-year-old, and has gone heavily favored in his three California starts this year, a win and pair of second-place efforts. With warmer conditions expected Saturday in Kentucky, and a chance of rain, each could benefit Mor Spirit.

2. #11 Exaggerator (8-1 odds)

Exaggerator is the one horse you will lose any type of value on should it rain Saturday. He has run three times on a wet track, winning twice, and finishing second in his other off track start. While he was extremely impressive in the Santa Anita Derby, he was also helped by suicidal early pace fractions ahead of him, which he likely won’t see in the Derby on Saturday. He benefits from a middle of the pack post draw and looks to get a similar trip to Mor Spirit. Not an overly quick workout horse in the morning, his final drill at Churchill on April 30 was a bit slower than some would have liked to have seen. That being said, he looks to be peaking at the right time and the 1-1/4 mile distance should be no issue for him.

3. #13 Nyquist (3-1 odds)

It’s tough in a 20-horse field to set a morning line, especially with so many talented runners, but I expect Nyquist to go off even lower than the 3-1 morning line he was set at. He hasn’t done anything wrong thus far on his career. He can win from on or off the pace and easily put away Mohaymen and the rest of the Florida Derby field in his last start. The concern for Nyquist could be if he is keen to go early and faces pace pressure. With possible speed horses like Mohaymen and Outwork breaking from the two gates just to his outside, and Danzing Candy with likely no choice but to send from post 20, jockey Mario Gutierrez will have to make his choice early on where he plans to place Nyquist. Nyquist also is one of the few that has neither raced, nor posted a workout over the Churchill surface entering the Derby.

4. #10 Whitmore (20-1 odds)

Some may question whether or not Whitmore is quick enough to compete in the Derby, but he has some things going for him entering Saturday’s race. First, he has won, and won impressively, at Churchill Downs. After a slow break in his debut, he crushed a field sprinting at Churchill last fall. He worked his way into the Derby by running second or third in the three Arkansas preps, and is likely to go off at odds of higher than his 20-1 morning line. Second, and possibly more important, is that Whitmore picks up the guy you want in the saddle on Derby Day in jockey Victor Espinoza. Espinoza looks to make it three Derby victories in a row and confidence in the saddle is no concern. Look for Whitmore to be weaving through traffic late.

5. #3 Creator (10-1 odds)

If Whitmore is going to be there in the end, odds are Creator will be as well. The horse that finished ahead of Whitmore in winning the Arkansas Derby, Creator is another that is peaking at the right time. The biggest concern for Creator may be his running style as he will likely be sitting somewhere between 17th-20th the first time the horses pass the finish line. He will need a clean trip, and a strong pace ahead of him to close into, but often times that occurs in the Derby. Sired by Tapit, Creator is one of the most well-bred horses in the field to handle the 1-1/4 mile distance.

How am I going to play the Derby?

I will play Mor Spirit, Exaggerator, and Whitmore all to win, as long as their odds are 10-1 or higher. I am going to put these five horses in an exacta and trifecta box as well. For a minimal amount of money, you can play a $1 exacta box, which will cost a total of $20, and a $1 trifecta box, which will cost $60.

A reminder, this weekend also kicks off summer harness racing action at Hawthorne. Live harness racing will take place this Friday and Saturday night with a 7:20 p.m. first post. Beginning next week, racing will take place every Thursday-Sunday at 7:20 p.m.

For those looking to wager on the Kentucky Derby, the doors at Hawthorne will open at 8:00 AM on Friday and Saturday morning as players can watch and wager races from Churchill and throughout the country all day long.

The Calm Before the Kentucky Derby Storm

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The Calm Before the Kentucky Derby Storm

We are more than a week away from the Kentucky Derby as this year’s edition is lining up to be very intriguing.  Heading into the 2015 edition, the talk was between Dortmund and American Pharoah leading into the race and neither disappointing.  The 2016 Derby looks to be Nyquist against the field.

With the draw to take place next Wednesday, the updated Kentucky Derby Points Standings look this way:

Rank/Horse/Points
1 - Gun Runner (151 pts)
2 - Nyquist (130 pts)
3 - Exaggerator (126 pts)
4 - Outwork (120 pts)
5 - Brody’s Cause (114 pts)
6- Creator (110 pts)
7 – Lani (100 pts)
8 – Mor Spirit (84 pts)
9 – Mohaymen (80 pts)
10 – Danzing Candy (60 pts)
11 – Destin (51 pts)
12 – Suddenbreakingnews (50 pts)
13 – Oscar Nominated (50 pts)
14 – Shagaf (50 pts)
15 – Whitmore (44 pts)
16 – Tom’s Ready (44 pts)
17 – My Man Sam (40 pts)
18 – Majesto (40 pts)
19 – Trojan Nation (40 pts)
20 – Mo Tom (32 pts)

The starting gate will be full as the top 20 are followed by Fellowship, Adventist, Laoban, and Dazzling Gem.  All four have hopes to run if the opportunity arises.

When the race is drawn next week, we will focus on the contenders and pretenders, as post position could become a major factor.  

From One Meet to the Next

2016 has been an adventure thus far at Hawthorne and the adventure continues this weekend.  In January, our racing surface was converted from a thoroughbred to harness surface in just 72 hours in freezing conditions. Barns were cleared, horses shipped in and out, and racing was conducted without a glitch.  In February, the conversion back to a thoroughbred surface occurred once again.  We prepare for our next switchover this weekend.

Our spring meet has been a success. Field size is up, handle is up, and we have gotten three weeks of racing on the turf.  The thoroughbreds are finishing off their spring meet as horsemen are mapping their course to their summer racing destinations.  At Hawthorne, the conversion happens once again.  After live racing concludes on Saturday evening, crews will work day and night to convert back to a Standardbred surface.  Many hours of hard work will be put in, but it’s all for the reason of putting on a great show that is live racing at Hawthorne.

Twilight Racing Saturday Night at Hawthorne

A reminder for racing fans, Saturday is our final day of thoroughbred racing for the spring meet at Hawthorne.  The first race on our twilight card will begin at 5:40 PM as racing will take place under the lights.  Hawthorne’s Brew Fest will be taking place on our apron as there will be craft beer, live music and the outdoor barbeque.  Join us for all of the racing action as we crown our spring champions at Hawthorne.

Live Harness Action Begins May 6

Just 72 hours after our spring thoroughbred meet concludes, qualifiers for our summer harness meet will be taking place on Wednesday, May 4.  Our harness meet opens Friday, May 6 with a 7:20 PM post as we will be racing on Friday and Saturday evening next week.  Following next weekend, live racing will take place every Thursday-Sunday evening with a 7:20 PM first post.  

Visit Hawthorne for Oaks and Derby Day

While live racing is taking place in the evening next weekend, there will be action taking place day and night as Hawthorne is the best destination in Illinois to wager on the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby cards.  Hawthorne will be open early next Friday and Saturday for fans to place their wagers on the Oaks and Derby cards.  Our entire facility will be open on Kentucky Derby day for fans to enjoy all of the action, with the Derby taking place in the afternoon and live racing at Hawthorne in the evening.  For any questions, the make reservations, or details on racing at Hawthorne, visit Guest Services or our website at www.HawthorneRaceCourse.com.