Photo by Keeneland Photo
Later this afternoon at Santa Anita Park, a small field of five talented three-year-olds (Electrifying has scratched) will contest the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes (gr. II), a seven-furlong sprint that serves as a springboard to Santa Anita’s major Kentucky Derby prep races, including the March 12th San Felipe Stakes (gr. II) and the April 2nd Santa Anita Derby (gr. I).
Leading the field is the champion two-year-old Nyquist, who will be making his first start since winning the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) at Keeneland on November 1st. Trained by Doug O’Neill, Nyquist has gone unbeaten in five starts so far, including three sprint wins to start his career, culminating with a 3 3/4-length romp in the seven-furlong Del Mar Futurity (gr. I) last summer. In preparation for his return, he’s turned in a long string of eight workouts at Santa Anita, and while most were relatively slow and easy, he picked up the pace on February 5th, going five furlongs in company with Bad Read Sanchez and stopping the clock in :59 1/5.
But while Nyquist is very talented and should be tough to beat, especially at this sprint distance, he has drawn the rail and could pace early pace pressure from Sheikh of Sheikhs. Additionally, he’s the 4-5 favorite on the morning line and could potentially go off at even lower odds than that, which is why it could be worth trying to beat him with Exaggerator. The son of Curlin compiled an admirable record last year, breaking his maiden in his second start before rallying to win the 6 1/2-furlong Saratoga Special Stakes (gr. II) in impressive fashion. Troubled trips and slow rails compromised his chances in the Breeders’ Futurity (gr. I) and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I), where he finished second and fourth, but he rebounded in a big way to win the Delta Downs Jackpot Stakes (gr. III) in his final start of the season, defeating subsequent Withers Stakes (gr. III) winner Sunny Ridge by a nose.
Like Nyquist, the majority of Exaggerator’s workouts have been on the slow side, but his last two–five furlongs in a bullet :58 1/5 and four furlongs in :47 2/5–suggest that he is ready for a huge effort in his first start of the season. He’s already shown that he can be successful sprinting, and in the Santa Anita Stable Notes for February 13th, there were some notable quotes from trainer Keith Desormeaux:
“Exaggerator was ready two weeks ago and he’s had two works since then and both were outstanding,” Desormeaux said. “The horse is absolutely raring to go. He’s a little different from most Derby horses, because you always worry about fitness or readiness for the big race, but he’s ready to go now.
“Eventually, I hope he can show his class. I don’t think weather will affect us here at all.”
Nyquist owns two victories over Exaggerator, by three lengths in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and 9 ½ in his maiden victory last June, but Desormeaux is inclined to dismiss them.
“We’ve got Nyquist right where we want him now,” Desormeaux said, a sly smile crossing his face.
Due to the scratch of Electrifying, Exaggerator will start post position four in the San Vicente, which should help him stay out of trouble and work out a nice trip, likely coming from a few lengths off the early pace. Closers have done very well in the San Vicente Stakes since Santa Anita’s return to dirt at the end of 2010, and my feeling is that Exaggerator has been prepared for a huge effort off the layoff and will be able to rally and catch Nyquist in the final furlong.
Now it’s your turn! Who do you like in the San Vicente Stakes?
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