Don’t be surprised if some of the horse racing ‘experts’ that have been dismissing Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner Nyquist after jumping on the Mohaymen bandwagon are jumping back on soon. Nyquist might not have been aware that he’d all but been buried as a Derby contender before even stepping on the track for his three year old campaign but he responded accordingly, holding off a strong challenge from Exaggerator to win the Grade 2, $200,000 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita.
With the victory, Nyquist remains unbeaten in six starts for his career. Five of the wins were in graded stakes races (three Grade 1) yet the usual coterie of horse racing curmudgeons have piled on this horse for reasons unknown. The reality is that there isn’t a horse that has ‘proved anything’ as a two year old. Some show promise of fulfilling their expectations but none ‘define themselves’ as a young race horse. Nevertheless, this is usually the nebulous critique given by horse racing ‘contrarians’ who will just take a dislike to some animals and write a very tenuous narrative to justify their disdain.
Exagerator finished second and is already developing something of a rivalry with Nyquist. The two horses have faced each other three times with Nyquist winning all three. After the race, trainer Doug O’Neill said that he was as much relieved as anything else: “I’m so relieved. I was confident going in, but we’ve all been in racing long enough to know that goofy things can happen. I’m so pumped, so happy, so proud.”
There’s a lot to be said for a horse that doesn’t exert more energy than he has to during a race. That’s sometimes lost on the contrarians, whom you think would know better. There’s no reason for a Kentucky Derby contender to leave it all on the track in this type of race. While the racing wags call these type of performances ‘unimpressive’ the flip side is that it’s often a sign that the trainer and jockey have a good handle on the horse which can be a huge asset when they step up in class during the Kentucky Derby prep race season.