01/06/2016 11:13AM

2015 Eclipse Awards: Nyquist

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Barbara D. Livingston

Doug O’Neill thought he had a very nice horse in Nyquist, but the trainer wasn’t sure he was going to see the horse’s best going five furlongs in his career debut June 5 at Santa Anita.

Breaking from the rail, Nyquist used his good early speed to gain a forward position and eventually got into a battle with Annie’s Candy, a horse who had already made one start. Annie’s Candy put his head in front of Nyquist in midstretch, but Nyquist battled back along the inside to win by a head in a sparkling time of 56.43 seconds, just 0.06 seconds off the track record.

“His debut really showed the quality that this horse has,” O’Neill said. “He has the stride and a mind of a two-turn horse. He didn’t want to get beat that day. They ran really fast, and he was rally pushed, and he just wanted to win. That’s been what separates him from a lot of horses – his will to get it done.”

:: 2015 Eclipse Awards: Finalist profiles

O’Neill made those comments the morning after Nyquist got it done by a half-length in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland, a victory that kept him undefeated in five starts. He added the Juvenile to victories in the FrontRunner at Santa Anita and the Del Mar Futurity – both Grade 1 races – and the Grade 2 Best Pal to earn a spot as a finalist for the Eclipse Award as champion 2-year-old male. Jockey Mario Gutierrez was aboard for all five of Nyquist’s starts.

Nyquist, a Kentucky-bred son of 2010 juvenile champion Uncle Mo, is the first 2-year-old to win three Grade 1 races since Lookin At Lucky, the juvenile male champion of 2009. Shanghai Bobby went 5 for 5 in 2012, but the Hopeful Stakes was a Grade 2 that year.

In four of his five victories, including the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, Nyquist finished first and Swipe finished second. Nyquist, bred by Summerhill Farm and named after Detroit Red Wings right winger Gustav Nyquist, was initially purchased for $180,000 as a weanling at the 2013 Keeneland November breeding stock sale, then brought $230,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September yearling sale. He was then purchased for $400,000 by agent Dennis O’Neill for owners Paul and Zillah Reddam out of the Fasig-Tipton Florida sale of 2-year-olds in training at Gulfstream Park in March. Following his maiden victory in June, he ran twice at Del Mar, winning the Best Pal and Del Mar Futurity by a combined nine lengths.

Following the Del Mar Futurity, O’Neill decided to run him back in 19 days in the FrontRunner, his first try at two turns, and Nyquist gutted out a three-quarter-length victory.

Many viewed the race as a regression, and despite being even-money or less in three straight starts, Nyquist was sent off as the 9-2 co-second choice in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile behind Greenpointcrusader.

Accustomed to being on or near the lead, Nyquist, breaking from post 12 in the Juvenile, was bumped leaving the starting gate and was floated six wide entering the first turn at Keeneland. He was four to five wide down the backside before making a four-wide move entering the far turn. He was three wide when he made the lead at the eighth pole, and he had enough to hold off Swipe.

“That was mind-blowing,” Doug O’Neill said of the manner in which Nyquist won the Juvenile. Nyquist is based in Southern California, and after about a month off, he resumed training in mid-December. O’Neill has mentioned the Grade 2, $200,000 San Vicente, a seven-furlong race Feb. 15, as a potential starting point for Nyquist’s 3-year-old season.