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.
Live racing resumes at Santa Anita on Friday, with first post time at 1 p.m. Admission gates open at 11 a.m.