Nyquist's path to Derby begins in San Vicente

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

February 13th, 2016

While maintaining his undefeated record would be nice, champion juvenile colt Nyquist's main goal, of course, is a victory in the Kentucky Derby (G1). Monday's $200,000 San Vicente (G2) at Santa Anita serves as the first stepping stone toward that prize, and the son of Uncle Mo drew post 1 in a field of six three-year-olds in the seven-furlong test.

Winner of the Best Pal (G2), Del Mar Futurity (G1), and FrontRunner (G1) last season as a heavy favorite, Nyquist lost some support following a narrow-than-expected victory in the latter event, a performance that suggested the Doug O'Neill charge might have distance limitations. However, he proved the sceptics wrong in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) at Keeneland, where he was sent off at 9-2 and overcame a wide draw and early bump to prevail for the fourth straight time over arch-rival Swipe by a half-length.

Although a landslide victor in Eclipse Award balloting for champion two-year-old male, many observers have compared him unfavorably with the juvenile filly champion Songbird, who is also undefeated and ran faster in winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies (G1) on the same card

"We're just eager to see him compete at a high level on Monday and let that speak for itself," O'Neill said. "That's what I love about this game, though, everyone has an opinion...Whenever you read something negative about your own horses, it's like somebody saying something about your family member...but if he runs a big race Monday, we can write our own story."

Already in possession of 30 qualifying points toward Kentucky Derby eligibility as part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby series, O'Neill has the luxury of tuning Nyquist up in this sprint, a non points-scoring race, before stretching him out for a final Derby prep at 1 1/8 miles, possibly the Florida Derby (G1) at Gulfstream in early April.

Nyquist is the second consecutive Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner to contest the San Vicente. Texas Red finished second by a neck in the 2015 edition, but missed the Triple Crown due to infirmities. Silver Charm (1997) was the last San Vicente winner to go on and win the Kentucky Derby.

Texas Red is trained by Keith Desormeaux, who has entered his multiple graded stakes winner Exaggerator. The son of Curlin was precocious enough to win the Saratoga Special (G2) going 6 1/2 furlongs in his first stakes attempt, and lived up to his pedigree with a win around two turns in the Delta Downs Jackpot (G3) in his season finale, defeating recent Withers (G3) winner Sunny Ridge by a neck.

In between those outings, Exaggerator finished second in the Breeders' Futurity (G1) at Keeneland and fourth, beaten three lengths, in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile.

The likely pacesetter in the San Vicente is Sheikh of Sheikhs, a sprint stakes winner on the Breeders' Cup undercard who was outrun for the lead in the Hutcheson (G3) at Gulfstream last time and finished a non-threatening third.

O'Neill has another contender in Denman's Call, an impressive 3 3/4-length debut winner going 5 1/2 furlongs at Santa Anita on January 9. A 22-1 chance that day, he figures to be up close to the pace in the San Vicente.

El Charro, runner-up in the $100,000 Mucho Macho Man at Gulfstream going a mile January 2, debuts for trainer David Jacobson but seems exposed at this point. The field is rounded out by Electrifying, a Bob Baffert trainee who broke his maiden for a $75,000 tag last out.