Kentucky Derby winner to return in Haskell as divisional honors yet to be determined

Jul 27, 2016 by James Scully/

Winner of the Kentucky Derby (G1), Florida Derby (G1) and San Vicente (G2) earlier this year, Nyquist enters the second half of the season as the leader in the 3-year-old division. But it’s a tenuous advantage following a third-place effort in the Preakness (G1).

The Triple Crown produced three different winners and the race for champion 3-year-old male is still up for grabs. Upcoming events like the Haskell (G1), Jim Dandy (G2) and (August 27) Travers (G1) could change the landscape before the all-important fall campaign.

Nyquist will attempt to solidify his positioning when invading the Jersey Shore for Sunday’s Haskell at Monmouth Park. The 1 1/8-mile race will feature the top three Kentucky Derby finishers, with Exaggerator being added to the mix on Wednesday. The Derby runner-up handed Nyquist his lone career setback when capturing the Preakness.

Gun Runner has been pointed toward the Haskell since finishing third under the Twin Spires on the first Saturday in May.

An unbeaten 2-year-old champion, Nyquist looms as a prohibitive favorite for Doug O’Neill and it will be interesting to see if the Uncle Mo colt settles into a relaxed rhythm, whether on the lead or just off of it; or is headstrong during the early stages.

Despite winning six of eight starts on the lead, Nyquist displayed outstanding tractability capturing the Kentucky Derby and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (G1) from just off the pace. The same versatility probably would’ve served him well in the slop at Pimlico, but Nyquist wound up dueling from the start with a longshot before giving way to Exaggerator.

Will the Preakness experience have any lingering affects?

Thursday’s post position draw will be critical to early positioning in the Haskell, with American Freedom likely to be sent straight to the front if he draws inside Nyquist. Winner of the Iowa Derby (G3) and Sir Barton in his last two outings, American Freedom is 3-for-4 overall and Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert hopes to pad his record with a ninth Haskell triumph via the late-blooming colt.

The toils of the Triple Crown appeared to catch up with Exaggerator, who was one of only two horses to compete in all three legs along with Lani, when fading to 11th in the Belmont Stakes. Originally scheduled to contest Saturday’s Jim Dandy at Saratoga, the Curlin colt was redirected to the Haskell following a less-than-stellar recent workout over the deep track at Saratoga.

He’s eligible to rebound with an improved showing Sunday, especially if the track comes up wet, and Exaggerator’s presence adds plenty of excitement.

Gun Runner also merits serious respect. After opening the year with convincing wins in the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2), the Steve Asmusen trainee offered a bold challenge in the Kentucky Derby before weakening slightly in the latter stages of the 1 ¼-mile classic. The Candy Ride colt figures to appreciate Sunday’s 9-furlong trip and Gun Runner tuned up for his Haskell bid with a sharp 5 ¼-length tally in the June 18 Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill.

Belmont Stakes winner Creator heads a 6-horse field in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy. Top rivals include multiple Grade 2 hero Mohaymen, who will make his first appearance since finishing fourth in the Kentucky Derby; and Destin, who followed a sixth in the Run for the Roses with a nose second in the Belmont Stakes.

(Coady Photo)

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