O’Neill talks similarities, differences between Nyquist & I’ll Have Another
Edited Press Release
Trainer Doug O’Neill played weather tracker Thursday morning, the day before a scheduled work for Reddam Racing’s undefeated champion Nyquist at Keeneland.
“If it is like it is now,” O’Neill said of a fast main track, “he’ll go about 7. If not, well, we will just play that by ear. We could wait a day and gallop on the training track and then come back and work Saturday.”
Rain is expected to begin late Thursday afternoon with isolated thunderstorms forecast to remain in the Lexington, Kentucky, area until late Friday afternoon.
On Thursday morning, Nyquist backtracked around Keeneland’s 1 1/16-mile track twice under exercise rider Jonny Garcia. Alongside a pony with assistant Jack Sisterson aboard, Nyquist walked to the eighth-pole before jogging with the pony for the remainder of his exercise.
Nyquist, who ran his perfect record to seven-for-seven with his victory in the Florida Derby (G1) on April 2 at Gulfstream Park to assume favoritism for the $2 million Kentucky Derby (G1), is scheduled to have his final major pre-Derby work at Keeneland next Friday.
“He probably would go to Churchill Downs on Saturday,” O’Neill said. “Usually, if they come out of the work well, we would ship the next day.”
O’Neill returned to Lexington in the wee hours of Thursday from Southern California to oversee preparations for what could be a second Kentucky Derby victory.
I’ll Have Another, also owned by Paul and Zillah Reddam, won the Run for the Roses in 2012. Like Nyquist, the Derby represented the third start of the year for the three-year-old, but some of the similarities end there.
“I’ll Have Another struggled his two-year-old season,” O’Neill said of a campaign that ended after a sixth-place finish in the slop at Saratoga in the Hopeful (G1). “Nyquist was brilliant as a two-year-old, built a solid foundation and was mentally strong.”
With Nyquist, O’Neill knew he had a serious racehorse on his hands early – the colt’s racing debut.
“The Reddams paid $400,000 for him, so we were optimistic,” O’Neill said about that race. “His first start was strong.”
I’ll Have Another’s move into a championship-caliber horse came later in his development.
“I guess it was his work about three weeks before the Robert Lewis (G2),” O’Neill said, referring to I’ll Have Another’s first stakes win. “It was at Hollywood Park and I was kind of like ‘Wow,’ and (jockey) Mario (Gutierrez), who hadn’t ridden much for us, said ‘Wow,’ and that convinced us to take the leap into the Lewis.”
Also in the O’Neill string at Keeneland is last year’s Alcibiades (G1) winner Gomo. The Uncle Mo filly returned off that October 2 victory to finish fourth in her 2016 debut, the Gulfstream Park Oaks (G2).
“The plan was to bring her to the Gulfstream Park Oaks and then take a shot at the Kentucky Oaks (G1),” O’Neill said of the Reddam-owned filly who finished fourth at Gulfstream in her 2016 debut. “Plans with her are up in the air now with blood work issues and it would be safe to say (she’s out of the Oaks).”
But O’Neill and the Reddams are not out of the Oaks as Fair Grounds Oaks (G2) winner Land Over Sea is scheduled to work Friday toward the $1 million race.
“Right now, she is Plan A,” O’Neill said.
Nyquist photo courtesy of Keeneland/Coady Photography