Possibility of an off track no concern for trainer O'Neill

BALTIMORE -- The announced defection of Gun Runner from Saturday's 141st Preakness Stakes put the focus even more on the rematch between Kentucky Derby one-two finishers Nyquist and Exaggerator in the second leg of the Triple Crown.

Tuesday morning, the focus also turned to the weather. Light rain that fell at Pimlico in the morning prompted Doug O'Neill, trainer of Nyquist, and Keith Desormeaux, conditioner of Exaggerator, to move up the scheduled training sessions for their horses.

Weather.com is calling for a 100 percent chance of rain Saturday, with as much as an inch possible. Though Exaggerator has won two graded stakes on wet tracks, including the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, Desormeaux was downplaying the perceived advantage his horse may have over Nyquist.

"Running in the mud is kind of like running on the turf," said Desormeaux, who added that he didn't trust the forecast four days out. "It mainly depends on pedigree, and Nyquist has just as much mud pedigree as Exaggerator, so it's not like we're going to be at an advantage, I don't think."

O'Neill certainly doesn't see an off track as a disadvantage to Nyquist, who won the Florida Derby over a wet track labeled good. Also, there was moisture in the Churchill Downs main track from showers that fell 90 minutes before the race.

"I don't think it'll affect him in a negative way," O'Neill said. "You got to be sure-footed to do what he's done at all the different tracks. We got a wet track there at Gulfstream. That didn't seem to affect him in a negative way, so I don't see it as a negative.

"Rain or shine, as long as he's doing well, we've got a real good chance."

Nyquist has given every indication that he continues to do well since his 1-1/4-length victory over Exaggerator in the Kentucky Derby, which kept him unbeaten in eight career starts.

With rain scheduled Tuesday morning, O'Neill moved Nyquist's training session to 6:10 a.m. from 8:30. Nyquist galloped a strong mile over a dry Pimlico track. Daily Racing Form clocked Nyquist a mile in 2:09.37, with a final three-eighths in 43.03 seconds. He appeared very relaxed all the way around.

"He's a lot more settled here than Churchill," said O'Neill, who watched Nyquist's gallop from the outside porch on Pimlico's press box level. "As soon as he left the pony [at Churchill], he'd want to blast off."

About 90 minutes later, O'Neill was back on that porch, where he watched Exaggerator gallop 1-1/4 miles, showing good energy throughout.

"He's so darn consistent," O'Neill said of Exaggerator. "He's a big, good-looking horse. He always carries his flesh really well. He just shows up every race. As it looks like we might get some rain Saturday, Team Exaggerator is high-fiving."

Actually, where Desormeaux hopes Exaggerator has an advantage over Nyquist is his ability to recover quickly from his races. It's a point the colt drove home to his trainer Tuesday morning in his gallop.

"I knew right after the Derby we would be probable for the Preakness because I know how he recovers," Desormeaux said. "He's like a 15-year-old kid that plays pick-up basketball in the park every day. It would kill an adult -- you'd have to sleep it off for a week -- but that kid is back the next day. He's youthful, he's limber, he's sound."

Good news for Abiding Star, Parx

Abiding Star, winner of five straight races including the Parx Derby on May 7, worked a half-mile in 50 seconds at Parx Tuesday.

Trainer Ned Allard said the horse went "dynamite."

Better news came later in the day when a quarantine placed at Parx since early April due to an equine herpesvirus outbreak was lifted, meaning horses may now travel in and out of the Bensalem, Pennsylvania, track.

Tuesday morning, prior to the quarantine being lifted, Allard had said Abiding Star would ship here on Thursday morning. Joining him will be Always Sunshine, who will run in Saturday's Grade 3, $150,000 Maryland Sprint Stakes.

Pimlico had previously announced provisions to allow those horses to train at 5 a.m. Friday and Saturday, but not with other horses stabled on the grounds.

In other Pimlico news

* On Tuesday, trainer Steve Asmussen officially declared Kentucky Derby third-place finisher Gun Runner from the Preakness. While the horse is fine physically, Asmussen said the focus for Gun Runner will be on "a serious summer of 3-year-old races."

"He's been in tremendous physical condition going into the Derby and coming out of it," Asmussen said, "and we expect for him to continue to physically develop."

* With Gun Runner out, his jockey Florent Geroux has picked up the mount on the maiden Laoban. Ricardo Santana Jr., whom trainer Eric Guillot had last week named on Laoban, is riding at Churchill on Saturday.

Laoban, Collected and Uncle Lino were scheduled to arrive at Pimlico on Tuesday afternoon on a flight that originated in Southern California and picked up horses in Kentucky.

* Fellowship, the third-place finisher in the Florida Derby at Gulfstream and fourth in the Pat Day Mile at Churchill, arrived at Pimlico around 4:45 a.m. on Tuesday, along with 10 other Mark Casse-trained runners. Those horses simply walked the shed row Tuesday morning.

* Awesome Speed, the Federico Tesco winner, worked a half-mile in 47.40 seconds Tuesday at the Colts Neck training center in New Jersey.