In 2005, Doug O'Neill saddled the first and third-place winners in the Del Mar Futurity with 5-2 favorite Stevie Wonderboy five lengths clear of The Pharaoh crossing under the wire and Jealous Profit another length behind.
“I'd forgotten about Jealous Profit running third, but Stevie Wonderboy was a wonderful horse,” O'Neill said Sunday morning. “And being owned by (entertainment mogul) Merv Griffin added spice to the whole deal.”
The trip down memory lane was prompted by the fact that O'Neill is positioned for what would be his second win in the Grade I $300,000 event Monday. O'Neill will saddle 5-2 morning line favorite Nyquist, undefeated in two starts and a 5 ¼-length winner of the Futurity-prep Best Pal Stakes and Archaeo (20-1) a maiden making only his second career start.
Nyquist is owned by J. Paul Reddam, who owned Jealous Profit in 2005 and has become O'Neill's major client. Looking back at Stevie Wonderboy, and ahead to Nyquist on Monday, O'Neill said there were both similarities and differences.
“They're both very mentally mature,” O'Neill said. “I think any good young horse we've ever had was more mature mentally than the average baby. He (Nyquist) definitely falls into the category of being a good-minded colt.
“Stevie Wonderboy was a little bit bigger. (Nyquist) is a little better balanced and maybe more athletic. I'd say Nyquist is like a young Kobe Bryant and Stevie Wonderboy was maybe like a Pau Gasol. Just bigger.
“Both had minds of two-turn horses but leave the gate like sprinters. It's a perfect combination.”
O'Neill followed the 2005 Futurity success with a second by Great Hunter in 2006 and Team O'Neill got another second with Know More in 2012 when assistant Leandro Mora saddled the colt while O'Neill was serving a suspension.
Besides the two runner-up finishes, O'Neill has had eight other Futurity starters, failing to have a representative in only 2009, with the top results being fifth-place efforts by Basmati in 2011 and Henry's Holiday in 2014.
On paper, it looks to be O'Neill's best chance in a decade.
“This is a special colt, but when they're lightly raced like that you never know,” O'Neill said. “There are some good ones in there and we'll just have to see what happens.
“You don't want to jinx yourself by talking coming into a race, but he's training great and we're excited. I wouldn't trade places with anybody, that's for sure.”
The field from the rail out: Nightly News (Rafael Bejarano, 8-1), Annie's Candy (Victor Espinoza, 10-1), Swipe (Kent Desormeaux, 4-1), Mt Veeder (Martin Garcia, 5-1), Nyquist (Mario Gutierrez, 5-2), Archaeo (James Graham, 20-1), Blameitonthelaw (Tyler Baze, 3-1) and Rockin Bayou (Mike Smith, 6-1).
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