Washington (AFP) - The Triple Crown hopes of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist will be on the line Saturday as the unbeaten colt aims to complete the second leg of American horse racing's Holy Grail with victory in the 141st Preakness.
Just one year after American Pharoah galloped into the hearts of US sports fans by claiming the first Triple Crown in 37 years, Nyquist is now dreaming of similar glory following his Derby victory.
Nyquist's impressive win in the Derby at Churchill Downs has prompted bookmakers to install the bay three-year-old as the short odds favorite for the Preakness.
The shorter distance of the Preakness -- which is run over nine-and-a-half furlongs -- is expected to favor Nyquist, who has won all eight of his races to date, including five Grade One stakes events.
Trainer Doug O'Neill was purring with pleasure after watching the horse go through his paces on Wednesday at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.
"He looked great," O'Neill said. "He's giving off great vibes and we're eager for Saturday to come. He went around a full two times and couldn't blow out a match when he came back -- fit, happy, ready.
"We're just looking for him to continue what he has been doing here since he's been in Baltimore -- keep his appetite up, stay injury-free and stay loose."
Owner Paul Reddam was reluctant to dwell on the possibility of Nyquist emulating American Pharoah as a Triple Crown winner.
However Reddam admitted that a victory in the Preakness would send excitement soaring.
- 'More wood to chop' -
"We have more wood to chop. We all realize that," Reddam told US media.
"It's kind of weird that we didn't have a Triple Crown winner for 30-some years and we could have back-to-backs.
"But we have to win the Preakness first. If he were to win the next leg, there would be a lot of excitement."
One man well placed to judge Nyquist's Triple Crown credentials is Bob Baffert, the trainer who masterminded American Pharoah's campaign last year.
Baffert, who has trained six Preakness winners, likes what he sees.
"He's really fast," said Baffert. "He stays out of trouble. He has a winning attitude. Horses like that, they're tough to –- it's like: 'Pass me to win.'"
The biggest threat to Nyquist's hopes could come from Exaggerator, who finished second in the Kentucky Derby.
Exaggerator trainer Keith Desormeaux is optimistic about his horse's chances.
"Exaggerator has much more racing experience, therefore fitness and the attribute of recovering quickly," Desormeaux said. "So I think I have the fitter horse and, to tell you the truth, the fresher horse going into Saturday."
Despite Desormeaux's bullish assessment, the fact remains that Exaggerator has finished behind Nyquist on four occasions so far in his career.
Nyquist will start third from the rail on Saturday while Exaggerator begins from the fifth position in the 11-horse field.
Stradivari, the third favorite at 8-1, starts on the outside. Japanese-bred Lani, ninth in the Derby, will start sixth.
The field also includes Cherry Wine, Uncle Lino, Awesome Speed, Collected, Laoban, Fellowship and Abiding Star.