About six weeks ago, just a few days before the Florida Derby, owner Paul Reddam said during a lengthy telephone conversation that if Nyquist could get through that race and the Kentucky Derby as he and trainer Doug O'Neill hoped, they believed they'd have a far fresher horse for the Triple Crown than they did four years ago with their 2012 Derby winner, I'll Have Another.
They had come to theorize that the hard training demanded of I'll Have Another, which resulted in victories in the Derby and Preakness, might have taken its toll by the Belmont, from which I'll Have Another was scratched with a career-ending injury on the eve of the race.
"We'll never know for sure," Reddam said.
But he and O'Neill thought they didn't need to find out again with Nyquist, who they believe is superior to the rest of this year's 3-year-old crop. They wanted a horse who not only could win the Derby but be better prepared to compete in all three legs of the Triple Crown. And so Nyquist has not been put to the same demands every morning as was I'll Have Another.
After Nyquist's victory Saturday in the Kentucky Derby, they are one step -- a very big step -- closer to fully realizing a plan they hatched after Nyquist won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. Nyquist won the Derby off just two preps this year, a sprint and a route, and on Monday headed to Baltimore as the overwhelming favorite to win the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 21.
Of the 19 horses who ran against Nyquist on Saturday, only Derby runner-up Exaggerator is certain to try him again. Gun Runner (who was third), Suddenbreakingnews (fifth), and Lani (ninth) are possible but far from definite.
The remainder of those definitely in at this point are horses who bypassed the Derby by choice of their connections or were excluded based on points. Cherry Wine and Laoban, third and fourth in the Blue Grass Stakes, were on the also-eligible list for the Derby but did not scratch into the race. Awesome Speed, Collected, Fellowship, Stradivari, and Uncle Lino all were kept out of the Derby to await the Preakness.
Fellowship ran on the Derby undercard, finishing fourth in the Pat Day Mile to Sharp Azteca, who is another possibility for the Preakness.
That brings to 13 the number of horses under consideration for the Preakness, with the likely field shaping up as smaller. A maximum of 14 horses can run in the Preakness. Entries are taken and posts drawn May 18.
Nyquist is now unbeaten in eight starts. As with I'll Have Another, he headed to Pimlico just 48 hours after the Derby. Leandro Mora, O'Neill's top assistant, said it was unlikely that Nyquist would have a workout there.
"He just needs light training. He's way fit," Mora said. "I don't think we need to push it too much."
"He gallops with a lot of energy," O'Neill said. "And then we give him one day of jog and time to recover."
O'Neill said Nyquist "hasn't had a lot of long gallops, hasn't had a lot of speed work."
"Great horses you can train 100 different ways, and they win despite you," he said. "I'll Have Another we'd do open gallops on a daily basis. This guy has a good open gallop maybe once a week. Less maintenance. We give him time to recover from stamina-type works."
Prior to the Derby, Nyquist had his final workout at Keeneland eight days from the race on April 29, going a mile. He did not gallop again until May 3 at Churchill Downs and then galloped May 5, when exercise rider Jonny Garcia -- an integral part of Nyquist's development -- let him go at about a two-minute clip through the lane.
"In 2012," O'Neill said, referring to I'll Have Another, "he galloped like a train every day. I thought that was the way to win classic races, that's what you had to do. It did work for him. But his career was short. And whether or not it had anything to do with it, I don't know. But we are doing things differently with Nyquist. And it seems like things are staying colder and tighter longer."
-- additional reporting by David Grening