At 12:15 p.m. on Friday, 50 minutes before the start of the closing-day card of Keeneland’s 2016 Spring Meet, several thousand fans who arrived early crowded along the rail to watch Reddam Racing’s undefeated champion and Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1) favorite Nyquist turn in his final work for the May 7 classic.
Nyquist and regular rider Mario Gutierrez worked a mile in 1:41 in company with Grade 1 winner Ralis, ridden by exercise rider.
Fractions were :27, :51, 1:15 and 1:41.
“He exceeded our expectations there,” trainer Doug O’Neill said moments after watching the breeze from the Keeneland Grandstand. “Looked like he was doing it nice and easy. Now we want Mario smiling, and we’re in good shape.”
Nyquist began his time on the track alongside the pony with assistant Jack Sisterson, and they and Ralis walked along the outside rail until reaching the Winner’s Circle. The trio jogged the wrong way to about the half-mile pole, turned around and jogged to near the sixteenth pole in front of the tote board, when Nyquist left the pony with Ralis to his inside and about a length in front.
Ralis had a narrow lead around the first turn and down the backside. On the final turn, Nyquist had caught his rival and finished some eight lengths in front.
O’Neill was surrounded by media back at the barn to hear his report.
“His standard mile back home is 1:45, 1:46, and he went 1:41 today,” he said. “Sometimes when he’s by himself, he used to kinda wait and not overdo it. Today Mario said as he pulled away from Ralis, he was doing it all on his own. Kind of a new dimension – he’s comfortable pulling away from other horses, so that was cool.”
The scheduling of Nyquist’s work – his third this month at Keeneland – resulted from O’Neill’s initial concerns about rainy weather.
“I thought if it did rain, I’d love to have the best-groomed track that you could get, which would be right before the races,” he said. “I called Mr. (Rogers) Beasley (Keeneland’s Vice President of Racing), and he said, ‘Let me talk to my crew,’ and he called back and said, ‘Sure.’ ”
Last October at Santa Anita, Nyquist breezed in company also at 12:15 p.m. before shipping to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
This year, Nyquist arrived at Keeneland on April 3, the day after he won the Xpressbet.com Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream.
“To have gone from Florida back to Southern California and back to Kentucky just seemed like too much,” O’Neill said of the plan. “I think it’s enabled us to have him be as prepared as possible for the Kentucky Derby. The track here is so great. The main track’s in great shape, but if it rains you can go to the training track. Just haven’t missed a beat, really.”
Nyquist is scheduled to ship to Churchill Downs on Saturday afternoon. Also making the trip will be Reddam Racing’s Kentucky Oaks (G1) hopeful Land Over Sea, who worked five furlongs in 1:01.80 under Garcia around 8:45 a.m. on Friday.
Clockers caught her in fractions of :12.80, :24.40, :36.80, 1:01.80 and out in 1:16.
“She was really stretching out, looked great,” O’Neill said. “She’s very happy in Kentucky. We’re seven days out (from the Oaks). We’re very excited and happy with what we saw today.”
LAOBAN BREEZES; DERBY TRY STILL A POSSIBILITY
Trainer Eric Guillot was pleased with the Saturday morning performance by McCormick Racing and Southern Equine Stable’s Laoban, who breezed six furlongs in 1:12 on a fast track under jockey Paco Lopez.
Clockers caught Laoban in fractions of :12.40, :24.40, :35.80, :48:40, 1:12 and out in 1:25.20.
“The work was awesome. This horse is getting good, really good,” Guillot said.
The breeze was the second at Keeneland for the maiden Laoban, a son of Uncle Mo who was fourth in the April 9 Toyota Blue Grass (G1). He was third in the Jan. 9 Sham (G3) at Santa Anita and second in the March 5 Gotham (G3) at Aqueduct.
Laoban, who breezed five furlongs in 1:01.60 at Keeneland on April 23, is 23rd in points earned toward the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1). He needs three defections from the list of prospective entrants to make the field, which is limited to 20 starters.
Even one defection would encourage Guillot to send Laoban to Churchill Downs. The trainer said he will make the decision about whether to ship to Churchill on Tuesday afternoon. Derby horses must be on grounds there Wednesday at noon.
Otherwise, Guillot said Laoban would be headed to the Preakness (G1).
Winner of the April 14 Appalachian (G3) Presented by Japan Racing Association, Catch a Glimpse worked four furlongs in :47.40 Friday morning. The 3-year-old City Zip filly, who races for Gary Barber, Michael James Ambler and Windways Farm, is the reigning Canadian Horse of the Year. Trained by Mark Casse, she is nominated to the Edgewood (G3) on the turf at Churchill Downs on May 6.