Undefeated Nyquist showed no signs of rust in his 2016 debut Feb. 15, when he took the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park.
Last year's champion 2-year-old male owned by Reddam Racing only needed a few cracks of the whip from jockey Mario Gutierrez to hold off a determined effort from Exaggerator in the stretch and win by 1 1/2 lengths. Doug O'Neill stablemate Denman's Call, who broke his maiden in his debut last time out Jan. 9, finished third, another 2 1/2 lengths back.
The Uncle Mo colt got out of the gate well from the rail in the seven-furlong dirt test and raced on the front with Sheikh of Sheikhs through a half-mile with fractions of :22.50 and :44.49.
"There were some anxious moments when I saw the fractions, and you're better off on the outside tracking than on the inside being tracked," O'Neill said. "The post wasn't an advantage at all and I think we got pushed by (Sheikh of Sheikhs) a little bit early, but Mario is smart. He knew what he had."
Sheikh of Sheiks dropped back as Nyquist ran six furlongs in 1:08.56, but Exaggerator still loomed. Exaggerator moved three wide in the turn and got within a half-length in the stretch, but could not pass Nyquist.
"You'd have to break the track record to win the race, so that's telling for both horses," said Exaggerator's jockey, Kent Desormeaux. "They're both very talented. I had a dream trip. The winner was too good."
The winning colt hit the wire in 1:20.71 (the third fastest time in the history of the race) and paid $2.80, $2.10, and $2.10 across the board. Exaggerator brought $2.40 and $2.10, and Denman's Call brought $2.60 to show.
Sheikh of Sheikhs tired to finish fourth, followed by El Charro, to complete the order of finish. Electrifying was scratched.
It was the fifth straight graded win for Nyquist, after 2015 scores in the Best Pal (gr. II), Del Mar Futurity (gr. I), FrontRunner (gr. I), and Breeders' Cup Juvenile (gr. I). Bred in Kentucky by Summerhill Farm, out of the Forestry mare Seeking Gabrielle, Nyquist now has just more than $1.73 million in earnings.
"That was what we anticipated," winning owner Paul Reddam said. "We knew Exaggerator was ready, and we knew we'd probably have to go (from the inside post)... They can give him respect or not, but that's not going to affect his performance on the racetrack.
"We try not to take any of that personally and if they want to say, 'That was only seven-eighths. How is he going to be at mile and an eighth or a mile and a quarter?' We'll let them tell us."
His runner up's connections are certainly believers now.
"Goodness gracious," Exaggerator's trainer, Keith Desormeaux, said. "Anybody not a believer in Nyquist now—that was an awesome race. To set those kinds of fractions and still finish in close to track record time for a 3-year-old in February? Wow. Hat's off to Nyquist."