On the way back to the Santa Anita Park barn area June 17 after watching Nyquist log his first timed workout since his third-place run in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I), Doug O'Neill ran into jockey Mario Gutierrez's agent, Tom Knust.
"What did you think, Tom?" the trainer asked.
"I think we're in for a lot of fun coming up this summer," Knust responded.
To be fair, there is not often a lack of optimism from the O'Neill camp, but the way the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner ran a half-mile in :48 3/5 certainly did nothing to change that. Santa Anita clockers timed Reddam Racing's son of Uncle Mo through early fractions of :12 4/5 and :24 3/5, with a gallop out to five furlongs in 1:02 flat under regular exercise rider Jonny Garcia.
O'Neill said since Nyquist's return to Southern California June 5, which followed an extended stay at Pimlico Race Course after a fever knocked him out of consideration for the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (gr. I), the colt has been "asking to do more."
"On his jog days, he's just bucking and playing," O'Neill said. "It's hard to explain. When you're around them, you see them when they're feeling good and then when they're energy-zapped. And he's been really feeling good. He talks to you in the feed tub, too. He's been cleaning up."
As last season's champion 2-year-old male breezed through the turn at Santa Anita, he encountered a galloper treading a bit too close to the rail, but in the capable hands of Garcia, the colt scooted through a less-than-ideal opening on the inside without any issue.
"Jonny's got ice in his veins—ice in his veins," O'Neill said. "He never had to break any momentum. That worked out fine."
As for an upcoming race target for Nyquist, O'Neill has firmly adopted a wait-and-see stance. With limited opportunities to race on dirt for 3-year-olds at Del Mar—at least in races restricted to the age group—the trainer said a showdown with California Chrome in the San Diego Handicap (gr. II) July 23 could be a possibility, but he's also considering shipping east.
"It's such an inexact thing," O'Neill said. "It could be a couple works, where we're like 'let's get this thing going,' or it could be four or five works. He probably had about 10 days of downtime and then we've exercised him every day since then, so he hasn't missed a lot. The San Diego, even though it's older horses, is a possibility."