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Nyquist won’t run in Belmont Stakes due to elevated white blood cell count

Mario Gutierrez rides Nyquist to victory during the

Mario Gutierrez rides Nyquist to victory during the 142nd running of the Kentucky Derby horse race at Churchill Downs Saturday, May 7, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Credit: Getty Images / Horsephotos

No Triple Crown, and now no rubber match.

Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and Preakness victor Exaggerator will not meet for the sixth time June 11 in the 148th Belmont Stakes. After blood work taken Monday showed Nyquist had an elevated white blood cell count, characteristic of an infection, trainer Doug O’Neill withdrew him Tuesday morning from “The Test of the Champion.”

When Nyquist didn’t clean up his feed tub Monday morning at Pimlico, it indicated a potential problem, and he was not shipped to Belmont Park at 9 a.m. He reportedly had a temperature of slightly above 102 degrees. Normal for a thoroughbred ranges from 99-101; O’Neill said Nyquist’s baseline reading is 100.3.

When O’Neill left for California on Sunday, assistant trainer Jack Sisterson remained with Nyquist. Sisterson said the temperature and white blood cell count still were elevated slightly Tuesday morning. O’Neill told that Nyquist would receive stronger antibiotics.

“I spoke to Doug and he wants to do what’s best for Nyquist,” Sisterson said. “We want to get him back to 100 percent and fly him back to California. We’re not sure when that will be, but Nyquist will tell us. The plan is to get him fit and healthy and point for the summer at Saratoga.” quoted Dennis O’Neill, Doug’s brother and bloodstock agent, as saying: “He’s definitely still a little sick. He’s eating. He ate real good [Monday] night and he’s bright-eyed, but there’s definitely still something going on there with the white blood cell count elevated.”

A fever last month also sidelined the leading 3-year-old filly, undefeated Songbird, who missed the Kentucky Oaks, in which she would have been an overwhelming favorite. Like Nyquist, she won her 2-year-old divisional championship. As the late trainer Charlie Whittingham used to say: “Horses are like strawberries. They can go bad overnight.”

Exaggerator’s 3½-length win in Saturday’s Preakness was his first victory in five starts against Nyquist, who entered 8-for-8. When Doug O’Neill announced Sunday that Nyquist would be pointed to the Belmont, it was a surprise. Many horses take months to recover from the grueling marathon, and with no Triple Crown possible, giving Nyquist a break seemed likelier.

With Nyquist out, Belmont challengers for Exaggerator include Cherry Wine, who nosed Nyquist for second Saturday; Lani, fifth in the Preakness; Derby also-rans Suddenbreakingnews (fifth) and Destin (sixth), and Governor Malibu, second in Belmont’s Peter Pan.

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