Doug O'Neill didn't want Reddam Racing's Nyquist to burn up the track June 25 in just his second work back following his run in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and the son of Uncle Mo gave his trainer just what he wanted.
During a special afternoon session, just before the start of the Gold Cup (gr. I) card at Santa Anita Park, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Nyquist worked an easy five furlongs in 1:02.07, stopping the clock a furlong past the wire under jockey Mario Gutierrez.
"That's him," said assistant trainer Leandro Mora after watching the breeze from the grandstand with O'Neill, fellow assistant Jack Sisterson, Gutierrez's agent Tom Knust, and Nyquist's regular exercise rider Jonny Garcia. "We're never looking for :57 with him."
The big screen showed slow fractions as Nyquist worked in the high-80s Southern California heat, with a quarter-mile in :26.08 and a half at the wire in :49.20.
"He went the last eighth, from the eighth pole to the wire, in :11 and change," O'Neill said. "You put him in company and he'll go a faster time, but we were just looking for a good leg stretch. ... I'm excited. I think he's back."
O'Neill said Nyquist will likely work in company next week to sharpen things up.
"This is only his second work since getting six (after the Preakness)," O'Neill said. "I didn't want to overdo it, and actually I was debating whether or not to do it in the afternoon, because that gets their blood pumping a little bit more."
As for the reasons to work out in the afternoon, along with the benefit of letting fans get a look at the 2015 champion 2-year-old male, O'Neill explained the later drill provides an experience not available during normal training hours.
"Having a freshly groomed track and being the only one on the track is a great opportunity, you don't want to pass that up," O'Neill said. "Even though there's not a boatload of people here, there's some people here cheering and the whole barn is there eating their breakfast. He knows something a little special is going on. From the mental end of it, they get a little extra, for sure."
The trainer still hasn't decided where the classic winner's next start will be, but said the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) is the ultimate target. Previously he said the July 23 San Diego Handicap (gr. II) against older horses—most notably California Chrome —was under consideration, along with the slew of lucrative races for 3-year-olds in the East.
"In an ideal world, the San Diego would be 3-year-olds only, and I'd weigh 180 (pounds) and be marathon ready. ... The goal is the Breeders' Cup Classic and we'll work backward (from there)," O'Neill said.