ARCADIA, Calif. (Feb. 15, 2016)—Eclipse Champion Nyquist remained unbeaten Monday at Santa Anita as he motored seven furlongs in a rapid 1:20.71 to win the Grade II, $200,000 San Vicente Stakes by a widening 1 ½ lengths under Mario Gutierrez. Owned by J. Paul Reddam’s Reddam Racing, LLC and trained by Doug O’Neill, Nyquist’s final time was the third-fastest in the race’s history, dating back to 1955, when the distance was changed to seven furlongs.
Idle since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile on Oct. 31, Nyquist broke from the rail and showed good speed from the outset, pressing and then overtaking Sheikh of Sheikhs going to the 4 ½ furlong pole. From there, the winner was pressed around the far turn, shook loose by a length turning for home and repelled a stout challenge from rival Exaggerator following splits of 22.50, 44.49 and 1:08.56 to win going away at the wire.
“It was scary, because I saw that horse pressing him, and 44 and change was a little spooky, and then eight and change and you keep waiting for them to slow down off a layoff like that,” said Dennis O’Neill, bloodstock consultant to Reddam and his brother, Doug. “To see him kick on and gallop out like that was really, really exciting. I don’t know how good this horse is now. I knew he was a good horse, but today’s performance was amazing.
“We’re really excited moving forward. It’s a perfect prep (for the Grade I Florida Derby April 2 at Gulfstream Park). We have (seven) weeks. We couldn’t ask for anything better. The gallop out was scary, because he couldn’t get a breather the whole way.”
The 2-5 favorite in a field of five sophomores, Nyquist paid $2.80, $2.10 and $2.10. In posting his sixth consecutive win, the Kentucky-bred colt by Uncle Mo collected $120,000 for the win, which boosted his bankroll to $1,733,600.
“He hasn’t run since November so we know he was going to be rank, but I also believe in his talent,” said Gutierrez, who also piloted I’ll Have Another to victories in the Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes for Reddam and O’Neill in 2012. “I wasn’t worried about Exaggerator today. I can’t be worried about that, about other horses.
“I know my horse is talented enough to make it to the bigger races so if I’m worried about other horses now, this early, than that makes me sound like I don’t believe in my horse and I do.”
Doug O’Neill was understandably awestruck by Nyquist’s effort off the bench.
“The post wasn’t an advantage at all and I think we got pushed by (Sheikh of Sheikhs) a little bit early,” he said. “But Mario is smart. He knew what he had. I really was impressed with the gallop out.”
Trained by Keith Desormeaux, Exaggerator, who had been idle since taking the Grade III Delta Downs Jackpot Nov. 21 and was facing Nyquist for the third time, sat a close third after the first quarter mile under Desormeaux’s brother, Kent, and loomed three-wide turning for home but was no match for the winner late.
The second choice at 5-2, Exaggerator paid $2.40 and $2.10.
“You’d have to break the track record to win the race, so that’s telling for both horses,” said Kent Desormeaux. “They’re both very talented. I had a dream trip. The winner was too good.”
Denman’s Call, who is also trained by O’Neill and was making just his second career start, rallied from off the pace at the rail for third money, finishing 7 ¼ lengths in front of Sheikh of Sheikhs, who obviously paid a steep price for his pace duel with the winner. Off at 12-1, Denman’s Call paid $2.60 to show.
With $182,647 bet to show on Nyquist, there was a minus show pool in the San Vicente of $34,035.72.
MARIO GUTIERREZ, NYQUIST, WINNER: “He hasn’t run since November (Oct. 31) so we know he was going to be rank but I also believe in his talent. I wanted to fight with him as little as possible today, let him do his thing and you saw the results.
“I wasn’t worried about Exaggerator today. I can’t be worried about that, about other horses. I know my horse is talented enough to make it to the bigger races so if I’m worried about other horses now, this early, than that makes me sound like I don’t believe in my horse and I do.”
KENT DESORMEAUX, EXAGGERATOR, SECOND: “You’d have to break the track record to win the race, so that’s telling for both horses. They’re both very talented. I had a dream trip. The winner was too good.”
FLAVIEN PRAT, DENMAN’S CALL, THIRD: “We had a good trip, we were right behind Nyquist and Exaggerator. For a moment we were in the second spot and it was a good race.
“It wasn’t a big win but we did something good today. He’s still very green but he’s a good horse.
“I feel good about it; with these things you just get back to riding horses and gain the experience.”
DOUG O’NEILL, NYQUIST, WINNER: “Everything went great, and for the race to go the way it did, I’m pumped and so proud of the whole team. Mario (Gutierrez) was great under pressure, which is what we need right now.
“Exaggerator is a nice horse, and for him (Nyquist) to hold him off the way he did showed you how talented he is. There were some anxious moments when I saw the fractions, and you’re better off on the outside tracking than on the inside being tracked. The post (one) wasn’t an advantage at all and I think we got pushed by the bottom horse (Sheikh of Sheikhs) a little bit early. But Mario is smart. He knew what he had. I really was impressed with the gallop out. He galloped out great.”
Next race? “I haven’t talked to Paul (Reddam). The original plan was the Florida Derby (April 2) and there’s a bonus involved, of course, so we’ll huddle up and play it by ear and do whatever is in the best interest of Nyquist for sure.”
DENNIS O’NEILL, NYQUIST, WINNER: “It was scary, because I saw that horse pressing him, and 44 and change was a little spooky, and then eight and change, and you keep waiting for them to slow down off a layoff like that. To see him kick on and gallop out like that was really, really exciting. I don’t know how good this horse is now. I knew he was a good horse, but I thought today’s performance was amazing. We’re really excited moving forward. It’s a perfect prep. We have seven weeks (to the Florida Derby). We couldn’t ask for anything better.
“The gallop out was scary, because it looked like Exaggerator had him. He made him run. He kept trying to get a breather, and he couldn’t get a breather the whole way. For a horse to do it is pretty exciting.”
J. PAUL REDDAM, NYQUIST, WINNER: “That was what we anticipated. We knew Exaggerator was ready, and we knew we’d probably have to go.”
(On not getting respect): “They can give him respect or not, but that’s not going to affect his performance on the racetrack. We try not to take any of that personally and if they want to say, ‘That was only seven-eighths – how’s he going to be at a mile and an eighth or a mile and a quarter?,’ We’ll let him tell us.”
(On the next race): “When we talked about it at the beginning of the year, we said we’d go to the San Vicente and the Florida Derby because we liked the timing. I think Doug will change his mind a couple times between now and then, because there’s the temptation to stay home. We love Santa Anita. But we’ll see. We just want to take it in stride. It was a good first step.
“The track was fast, and he ran like the track was fast. He’s just got that mindset that you’re not going to beat him.”
J. KEITH DESORMEAUX, EXAGGERATOR, SECOND: “Goodness gracious. Anybody not a believer in Nyquist now, that was an awesome race, to set those kinds of fractions and still finish in close to track record time for a three-year-old in February. Wow! Hat’s off to Nyquist.”
Live racing resumes at Santa Anita on Friday, with first post time at 1 p.m. Admission gates open at 11 a.m.
Source: Santa Anita Park