Company helps Nyquist get “magic number”

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A nearly full moon still in the sky at sunup and a growing number of early-rising onlookers greeted Kentucky Derby favorite Nyquist as he turned in his second bit of serious work in advance of the big day in two week’s time.

Tacked up and out of his stall at 6:55 a.m. for a few turns around the shedrow of Barn 24 in the Keeneland stable area, Nyquist and regular exercise rider Jonny Garcia made the short walk to the track to make his usual 7 a.m. training time.

Trainer Doug O’Neill, already wearing a pressed shirt and sport coat for a race hundreds of miles away that he traveled by plane to later in the morning, walked with his small group while scores of other fans, reporters, photographers and others trailed the undefeated champion up the horse path to the track.

Nyquist and Garcia stayed with Jack Sisterson on the pony while Flavien Prat and Ralis were a couple paces behind. Nyquist and Ralis, a Grade 1 winner in his own right bound for the Pat Day Mile on the Derby undercard, worked together. O’Neill hoped Nyquist would go in 1:01 and change and that’s exactly what he got as the work was officially timed in 1:01.80.

“We thought him going in company that he would just do it easier,” O’Neill said while Nyquist got a bath after the work while cameras clicked away. “He’s so competitive and sometimes by himself Jonny’s got to ask him a little bit. We thought it would be easier on him and man, he was strong early. He really wanted to go. I’m very happy, Jonny is very happy and the horse looks great back here.”

O’Neill watched the work from the area right near the finish line behind the box seats. He watched in silence, the only sound the beep of his stopwatch clicking off eighth-mile splits from the time the son of Uncle Mo went past the finish post the first time.

Nyquist was a couple lengths behind Ralis around the turn and caught up to his workmate by the time they got to the 5/8ths pole and broke off. The two went in splits of :12, :23.80 and :35.80 for the first three furlongs. Nyquist got the better of Ralis in the stretch and finished about a half-length clear at the finish. He pulled up quickly and was timed galloping out 6 furlongs in 1:18.

O’Neill said he hoped for the same type of move next Saturday, before shipping to Churchill Downs Sunday, May 1.

“1:01 and change seems to be like a magic number,” O’Neill said. “Just him finishing up, … we got him doing my math (in) 1:45 (for the mile) and the last eighth in 11 and change. That’s a really good piece of work. Really now it’s just a matter of maintaining what he can do. As long as Elias his groom is happy and Jonny his rider is happy we’re all happy.”

O’Neill was off to nearby Bluegrass Airport not long after the work and meeting with the press to catch a flight for Dulles International, where he’ll start a the relatively short 45-minute drive to Hollywood Casino at Charles Town Races. O’Neill will saddle Donworth in the $1.2 million Charles Town Classic Saturday afternoon.