INSIDE IS THE SHORTEST WAY AROUND FOR NYQUIST
Nyquist makes his much-anticipated three-year-old debut Monday in the Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs, the first step on what Team O’Neill hopes will lead to the Kentucky Derby on May 7.
Winner of all five career starts, his last three Grade I stakes including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Oct. 31, Nyquist drew the rail against five rivals, not necessarily any trainer’s favorite post position sprinting, but Doug O’Neill is taking it in stride.
“I think with a good horse, it’s part of it,” he said. “You take what they give you, and sometimes the rail’s not a bad thing. It’s the shortest way around. You just have to break good. We’re pretty confident in Nyquist. He’s a good gate horse so we should be in good shape.”
O’Neill’s “junior varsity,” meanwhile, came through at Golden Gate yesterday when Frank Conversation won the El Camino Real Derby, his second straight win over the synthetic Tapeta surface, having captured the Golden Gate Derby in his previous start.
“He’s a nice horse, very honest, and very exciting,” O’Neill said. “If he can parlay that (form) to dirt, it could be a lot of fun.”
The San Vicente, race five of nine: Nyquist, Mario Gutierrez, 4-5; Electrifying, Tyler Baze, 20-1; El Charro, Joe Talamo, 8-1; Denman’s Call, Flavien Prat, 6-1; Exaggerator, Kent Desormeaux, 5-2; and Sheikh of Sheikhs, Rafael Bejarano, 8-1
In addition to the attractive racing card, Santa Anita celebrates Presidents’ Day with another popular Dollar Day. Draft beers, hot dogs and sodas will be on sale for a buck apiece.
First post time is 12:30 p.m. Admission gates open at 10:30 a.m.
‘NICE AND EASY’ BREEZE FOR SONGBIRD
Undefeated and untested Songbird worked four furlongs on Santa Anita’s fast main track on a picturesque Sunday in 48.40, breezing, under exercise rider Edgar Rodriguez.
The champion two-year-old female of 2015 is preparing for the Grade I Santa Anita Oaks at 1 1/16 miles on April 9.
“Nice and easy,” is how trainer Jerry Hollendorfer described the move. “She’s coming along good.”
BAFFERT MULLS PLANS FOR STAKES STARS
Bob Baffert remained non-committal Sunday morning on the next race for San Antonio Stakes winner Hoppertunity.
“It will either be the Big Cap ($1 million Santa Anita Handicap on March 12) or Dubai ($10 million World Cup on March 26),” Baffert said.
There was little confirmation on the next races for Dortmund and Mor Spirit, as well.
“Dortmund’s feet are good,” Baffert said of the Santa Anita Derby winner, who has not raced since winning the Grade III Native Diver Stakes at Del Mar last Nov. 28. “He just hasn’t shown the energy in his works that he has in the past. That’s the issue.”
On Triple Crown contender Mor Spirit, Baffert said, “I’m still waiting on him. I’d like to give him a couple weeks before making a decision. His next work will tell me more.”
CALCULATOR’S WIN COULD ADD UP TO SAN CARLOS
Calculator, a well-regarded son of In Summation, returned after an absence of more than year to win Saturday’s seventh race by a neck for Peter Miller, who trains the gray Florida-bred for owner Richard Pell.
Calculator hadn’t raced since winning the Grade III Sham Stakes at Santa Anita by 4 ¼ lengths on Jan. 23, 2015. Prior to that, he was second in two Grade I races behind eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah, in the Del Mar Futurity and the FrontRunner Stakes.
“He had a non-displaced condylar fracture on his right front,” Miller said in explaining the long layoff. “We planned to run him in the Breeders’ Cup, but he had a sore foot, so we had to scratch him.
“He’s had some issues but he’s a tremendous talent and it’s really gratifying to get him back and to have him perform like this. For him to break bad, be five wide, run into the (speed) bias and hang tough was real gratifying.
“When that horse (Fusaichi Samurai) came back on (along the rail), I thought, ‘Uh oh,’ but he showed his heart. If he stays healthy, we could think about the San Carlos, going seven-eighths (a Grade II, $300,000 race on March 12).
“I don’t know how far he really wants to go, but I think a mile, a mile and a sixteenth is within his wheelhouse.”
FINISH LINES: Agent J.R. Pegram reports David C. Lopez still sore from a riding mishap in Friday’s eighth race and remains “day-to-day” as to when he will return to the saddle. Lopez took off his scheduled four mounts today . . . Tiz a Billy, prepping for next Sunday’s $75,000 Baffle Stakes for three-year-olds at about 6 ½ furlongs on turf, worked four furlongs Sunday in a bullet 47.40 for trainer Brian Koriner. Tiz a Billy’s time was the fastest of 69 drills at the distance, the average time of which was 49.22 . . . Illuminant, ticketed for Saturday’s Grade II Buena Vista Stakes for older fillies and mares at one mile on turf, worked four furlongs for trainer Mike McCarthy in 50.80. Flavien Prat, who won three races Saturday, rides both horses . . . Rafael Bejarano and Santiago Gonzalez remain tied for the riding lead with 29 wins each through 30 days, but Phil D’Amato, with two wins Saturday, has opened an 18-13 lead over runners-up Doug O’Neill and Bob Baffert among trainers . . . Legendary Hall of Fame jockey Johnny Longden would have been 109 years old today.
Source: Santa Anita Park