Trainer Doug O’Neill says it is difficult to be around his unbeaten Nyquist “and not smile.”
Grins broke out throughout the Team O’Neill shedrow Friday afternoon as the current Kentucky Derby favorite put in his final workout in advance of May 7, drilling 1 mile in 1:41 in company with Grade I-winning stablemate Ralis and drawing off handily as they made their way down the lane.
With an eye on the weekend forecast and seeking to get the best possible track for the reigning juvenile champion’s last serious pre-Kentucky Derby move, O’Neill got permission from Keeneland to work Nyquist at 12:15 p.m. before the day’s racecard. With the freshly harrowed track to himself and jockey Mario Gutierrez in the irons, Nyquist broke off a couple of lengths behind exercise rider Jonny Garcia and Ralis but was tracking along on even terms outside of his stablemate down the backstretch.
Nyquist began to edge away from Ralis on the far turn before authoritatively kicking away from him in the stretch. The bay son of Uncle Mo did swap leads and got to playing around in the last portion of his move, clocking splits of :27, :51, 1:15 and 1:41 over the track where he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last October.
Nyquist has won all seven of his career starts.
“Very happy. He looked great out there and, granted the track is a little quicker in the afternoon than it is in the morning, but just the time he went without much effort was just wowing,” O’Neill said. “Mario said he was checking out the crowd and he does that a little where he plays around. He knows he’s good and he likes to flaunt it a little bit.
“We were just looking for a good gallop in and good gallop out. His standard mile back home is like 1:45, 1:46 and went 1:41 today. He’s a horse where sometimes, if he’s by himself he used to kind of just wait and not overdo it. Today, Mario said as he was pulling away from Ralis he was doing it all on his own. Kind of a new dimension, if you will, that he’s comfortable pulling away from horses. So that was cool.”
If O’Neill seems remarkably at ease for a man conditioning the horse who will wear the biggest target in the first leg of the Triple Crown, he says it’s because he’s taking his cues from Nyquist himself.
“He’s as mentally and physically mature as you’re ever going to see for a 3-year-old,” O’Neill said. “I think you’re as calm as your horse and we’re just so optimistic about this guy.”
Nyquist has won all seven of his career starts including his 3 1/4 -length triumph in the Grade I Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park on April 2. Owned by Reddam Racing, Nyquist is set to become the richest horse ever to start in the Kentucky Derby with career earnings of $3,322,600.