ARCADIA, Calif. - Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Nyquist, last year's champion 2-year-old male, showed Monday at Santa Anita that he will continue to be a force at age 3. He returned from a 3-1/2-month layoff and staved off a quality colt in Exaggerator to win the Grade 2, $200,000 San Vicente Stakes, remaining unbeaten after six starts and a top prospect for the May 7 Kentucky Derby.
There were no qualifying points toward the Derby in this seven-furlong race, but Nyquist ($2.80) made his point. Breaking from the rail, he battled with Sheikh of Sheikhs through fast fractions of 22.50 seconds for the opening quarter and 44.49 for the half -- meaning the second quarter was run in 21.99 seconds -- then safely held off a fresh challenge from Exaggerator to win by 1-1/2 lengths under Mario Gutierrez in 1:20.71 for seven furlongs.
The winning time was the fastest seven furlongs here since Masochistic won the Grade 1 Triple Bend last June 27 in 1:20.25.
Denman's Call, like Nyquist trained by Doug O'Neill, finished 2-1/2 lengths farther back in third. Sheikh of Sheikhs was fourth, 11-1/4 lengths behind Nyquist, underscoring the quality of Nyquist's race. El Charro trailed throughout in the five-horse field. Electrifying was scratched Monday morning.
"I'm so proud of this guy," said O'Neill, who trains Nyquist, a colt by Uncle Mo, for owner Paul Reddam. "He just does what he has to do. He doesn't overdo it."
To be sure, Nyquist was placid in the paddock, looking like a seasoned pro. Exaggerator made an impressive appearance, too, looking like a powder keg. They both ran well, but Nyquist continued his mastery of Exaggerator. He has beaten him all three times they have faced one another.
"I'm so relieved," O'Neill said. "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."
Nyquist completed a sensational 48 hours for O'Neill, Reddam, and Gutierrez, who combined to win the El Camino Real Derby on Saturday at Golden Gate Fields with Frank Conversation.
"Really good weekend," Reddam said.
Nyquist was making his first start since winning the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, in which he overcame a wide draw and a wide trip to prevail. He has now won four times in sprints and twice going 1 1/16 miles, and he'll head back around two turns for his next start.
The most likely spot is the Florida Derby on April 2 at Gulfstream. It appeals to O'Neill because it is five weeks out from the Kentucky Derby, compared with four for the Santa Anita Derby. And it appeals to O'Neill and Reddam because Nyquist is eligible for a $1 million bonus if he can win that race since he was purchased out of the Fasig-Tipton sale of 2-year-olds in training last March.
But since no firm decision needs to be made just yet, O'Neill said he would "huddle up" with Reddam and his advisers -- including O'Neill's brother, Dennis, who was the agent for the Nyquist purchase -- before committing.
These guys know how to head down the Derby trail. After winning it four years ago, they went back to the bar and said, I'll Have Another.
-- additional reporting by Brad Free