All set to return to the races, Nyquist will take on five challengers in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in his first start since his only loss in the Preakness more than two months ago.
The Kentucky Derby winner is the 6-5 morning-line favorite for Sunday’s 1 1/8-mile Haskell over a field that includes Exaggerator, who ended Nyquist’s 8-0 record in the second leg of the Triple Crown.
“We’re coming into the race with a lot of optimism,” Nyquist’s trainer Doug O’Neill said at Thursday’s post-position draw at the track in Oceanport, New Jersey. “Hopefully, he brings one of his better races because he will need that to win.”
Nyquist breaks from the inside No. 1 post under Mario Gutierrez, while Exaggerator is the 5-2 second choice and leaves from the No. 6 post under Hall of Famer Kent Desormeaux.
“The far outside post is perfect for my horse,” trainer Keith Desormeaux, Kent’s brother, said. “He’s an off-the-pace style runner. The inside runners can shoot away from there, go to the front, and he can watch all of the goings on from the outside and take back and make his run when he’s ready.”
Nyquist and Exaggerator are meeting for the sixth time. Nyquist won the first four, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the Derby before Exaggerator ended the streak in the Preakness. Nyquist did not run in the Belmont; Exaggerator finished 11th.
The rest of the Haskell field is American Freedom (3-1), Gun Runner (4-1), Awesome Slew (15-1) and Sunny Ridge (20-1).
American Freedom is trained by Bob Baffert, who last year was on top of the racing world when he came to the Haskell and won with Triple Crown champion American Pharoah. The Hall of Fame trainer is looking for his ninth Haskell win. The lightly-raced American Freedom missed the Triple Crown races, but comes into the Haskell off wins in the Sir Barton Stakes and the Iowa Derby.
“We’ve been quite high on him from the moment he arrived in the barn,” Baffert’s assistant Jimmy Barnes said.
This is the 49th running of the Haskell, and nothing tops American Pharoah’s exhilarating run. But the Jersey Shore’s signature race features the first three Derby finishers in Nyquist, Exaggerator and Gun Runner. And it’s the first time since 2010 the Derby winner has gone against the Preakness winner. Six years ago, Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky won over Derby winner Super Saver.