This is the fourth Kentucky Derby winner for owner Paul Reddam and number two for Trainer, Doug O’Neill.
Along with jockety Mario Guitierezz and O’Neil’s brother, Dennis, they answered questions after all the pageantry with Nyquist, who had completed his 8th straight win and continues to be undefeated going into the Preakness in two weeks.
Nyquist, named after a hockey star, is the first unbeaten Kentucky Derby winner since Smarty Jones in 2004.
PAUL REDDAM: When the Red Wings miss the playoffs, we start to worry about our horse.
JOHN ASHER: How does it feel for you? Obvious question. Brilliant performance by this horse. All he’s done is do everything that you want him to do and more. It’s a special, special thing.
PAUL REDDAM: I feel really good for the horse. Because along the way the last year, he has taken a lot of shots for whatever reason. And I think he proved all his critics wrong today. So I’m really proud of him and the whole O’Neill team and Mario’s ride. It was just flawless from beginning to end. J
JOHN ASHER: What were your thoughts coming into the race? You got here. Didn’t work over the racetrack, but he trained brilliantly. Whatever you did. Looked great on the racetrack here. You got the post draw. You were outside a little bit. But confident throughout the week he would run this kind of race?
PAUL REDDAM: I was. Obviously, you feed off your trainer. And Doug has trained for us for, I guess, 12 years now. So I have kind of been able to read O’Neill language. (Laughter.) You could tell the horse was really doing everything absolutely perfectly. And to win this race you have to have a lot of things go right, and they were all going right. So we felt quietly confident coming in.
JOHN ASHER: Can you speak O’Neill language?
DOUG O’NEILL: He can, actually.
JOHN ASHER: Doug, here you are. You emerged in California. But you’ve been all over with him, two trips across the country. Perfection. What else do you want to say?
DOUG O’NEILL: It’s unbelievable. Got to thank Paul and Zillah for this opportunity. Like Paul said, he knows the O’Neill language. I know the Elias language, his groom. And the Johnny Garcia language, his exercise rider. And those guys, they are the unsung heros. Because they do all the work, and they are there long hours. And I could tell in the last week or so, Elias he is very serious about his trade and loves his horses so much. He has been smiling more than I have ever seen him smile. I didn’t know what was going on. Now I think we all know. When you take those bandages off in the morning, his legs were ice cold and his feet were ice cold and you look in the feed tub and there is no more feed in there, he was really responding so well to Elias and the whole team. It’s a great feeling.
JOHN ASHER: In this race you have faced so many things that your horse has never faced before. Coming in for a second time and getting it done. Just talk about the journey. Were you really concerned at any point?
DOUG O’NEILL: You are always concerned. When we did our Team Reddam meeting after winning the Breeders’ Cup race, we talked about giving him a little break and having two races as a prep for the Kentucky Derby. And we felt pretty confident about that. I think we would all be lying if we got beat here today, we would say maybe we didn’t do enough with him. Maybe that was the only worry. Other than that, he’s just a remarkable athlete that, if you work him by himself, he will even swish his tail a little bit like what do you want? What do you want for me? You put him in company, and he’s just a Ferrari. This guy right here. How does he handle that pressure? We are all saying thank God we’re not riding him. We would have fell off of him before we got in the gate. Mario has got ice in his veins. And he’s the guy you want at the free-throw line at the end of the game. Got to thank Mario big time.
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Thank you. (Applause.)
JOHN ASHER: How about that pressure? How about the trip on this guy today?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: The trip was amazing. We got a beautiful trip, you know, from the start to the end. And the pressure, it is pressure. Like the horses on the field, it’s the Kentucky Derby. It’s the only race we have, like, 19 other horses trying to get to the wire first. But, like I say, I get the confidence from Nyquist. I was able to work him since he got to the track, so I know him a lot, and I trust him. And I believe he trusts me as well.
JOHN ASHER: Clearly made the game for you. You have been here twice with these guys and win both Derbies. Really impressive. Any special approach you take, or is it just you and your confidence in the horse?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: No, it’s very, very special. Like I say, it’s a lot of nerves. But I do believe that I have matured as a rider. And I’m doing things I wasn’t doing four years ago. So that makes me have a lot of confidence. I know that my surroundings always believe in me, so you get extra confidence. And Mr. Reddam, my wife, the whole team, Johnny, the groom Elias. I believe I got the right people behind me, so they always give me confidence. That’s where I get my strength and confidence.
DOUG O’NEILL: Got your back. (Applause.)
JOHN ASHER: For another O’Neill perspective, let’s talk about what it means to you.
DENNIS O’NEILL: I said to someone it felt like four years ago I bought a lotto ticket. And I said for someone to buy two lotto tickets in one lifetime, I don’t think that’s ever happened. That’s how kind of how I feel about this, just an unbelievable day. To have my mom here, too, is so special. (Applause.)
JOHN ASHER: What’s mom’s name?
DENNIS O’NEILL: Dixie Lee. She said about six months ago, “I’m not missing any more of these.” (Laughter.) She has been taking the road trips with us. It’s been great to have her.
JOHN ASHER: After you bought two lottery tickets you won’t buy anymore? DENNIS O’NEILL: That’s up to Mr. Reddam. If he was smart, he would cut me off. (Laughter.)
PAUL REDDAM: Well … (Laughter.)
DENNIS O’NEILL: Wait until I get my car, though.
PAUL REDDAM: It’s about time for a new car.
JOHN ASHER: I’m smarter. I will cut myself off and take questions.
Q. From our crew calculations, there have only been now four owners in the last 44 years who have won multiple Kentucky Derbies. How do you explain this?
PAUL REDDAM: Well, one of your colleagues told me I was the luckiest guy in horse racing ten years ago. And I think that’s how I’d explain it. I’m just very lucky to be with these guys and for Dennis to do his thing. It’s as simple as that, really.
Q. How many folks did you have here in Kentucky throughout these five weeks and this last week as far as the staff goes?
DOUG O’NEILL: A lot. I wouldn’t want to look at Paul and Zillah’s checkbook. Paul and Zillah are so generous. I think we had eight to ten horses and probably about 12 crew here. So we were definitely overstaffed. But Paul said do whatever you have to do. We had Dave Kenney’s good friend Marvin, who is unbelievable, he’s a former policeman. He was security around Nyquist at 24 hours a day. So, yeah, we had a huge crew. Big family. And thank you, Paul and Zillah, for writing all those checks. PAUL REDDAM: If the horse would have run second, we would have had a net loss. (Laughter.)
Q. Doug, question for you. During the week leading up to the race, you were asked about people maybe not getting all in with Nyquist. And you were very kind of deferential about it. You said it didn’t bother you. Did it at any point in time?
DOUG O’NEILL: Paul and I would talk about, can you believe that idiot just wrote that article? We respect all journalists. (Laughter.) You nailed it right. It’s the beauty of sports. And you don’t want to be — you don’t want everybody picking the same team or else it’s not that much fun. I think people are just looking for value. And none of these three-year-olds had gone a mile and a quarter. So why bet a 2-1 shot when you could bet 10, 15 on a horse that had never done it? We were very confident in him.
Q. Doug, could you talk about how Mario has matured and changed since that first Derby win?
DOUG O’NEILL: He’s found a beautiful woman in Rebecca, and they are expecting a baby. So that’s cool.
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Yeah.
DOUG O’NEILL: I think they should name him Derby, but that’s up to them. Or maybe Derby Doug. That would be kind of cool. (Laughter.) I think all of us, there’s — you go back. And, if you had, like, nerve meters on all of us in a lot of the big races, we maybe looked not too nervous, but we were all kind of a little nervous. I think, as we go along here, Mario is confident. He has a Mike Smith quality about him. You really do. But with better hair. Mike’s got good hair. (Laughter.) I think he’s extremely confident and not cocky. You hear it in the way he talks. He didn’t expect everything. He wants to earn everything. He puts a lot of effort in to be prepared for every race, and it shows off.
Q. Talk about how easy he makes things look and is that just part of the professionalism that this horse has displayed?
DOUG O’NEILL: Yeah. He’s just a special horse. I mean, I think now it’s safe to say, Lava Man is unbelievable and I’ll Have Another is unbelievable. But he’s definitely the best horse I have ever been around. And Johnny Garcia, who gets on him every day, he’s been saying for a while now that this horse is so strong and does everything so easy and, you know, he’s never tired. You never — it doesn’t seem like we have ever really gotten to the bottom of him. That’s very exciting about the future. And, again, like every other athlete, you just got to stay injury-free. A lot of ice. A lot of prayers. A lot of Elias. And that’s all good.
Q. Doug, Paul, and Mario, what’s going through your mind in that stretch when Exaggerator made his late run?
PAUL REDDAM: Wire! (Laughter.)
DOUG O’NEILL: Did you know he was coming?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: I did check around, and I didn’t know he was coming.
DOUG O’NEILL: You and I will talk later. (Laughter.)
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Like I say, if anybody watches Nyquist’s races, you will see that he will not allow any other horse pass him. He’s always — he’s the kind of horse that always has something left for whatever comes to him late. So he was able to win by five lengths. He’s been able to win by a nose. So that’s how I get so much confidence from him. Because, if anybody comes late, I know he’ll have something to respond to that.
JOHN ASHER: You almost won the Oaks, too. You came close to being a Derby double winner. Did you feel all along California was the strength of this 3-year-old crop?
DOUG O’NEILL: My brother is a big numbers guy. On numbers we look pretty solid, right, Dennis?
DENNIS O’NEILL: Yes, we did. We looked really solid.
DOUG O’NEILL: From the numbers we looked solid. I just knew firsthand these horses were training great and they looked great. From that end, I felt pretty confident.
Q. When Mario talks about slump and the loss of confidence after 2012, where did you see that happening and how did you start and when did you start to see it come back for him?
DOUG O’NEILL: I had my own slump. So I didn’t really notice Mario’s slump. I think we started doing, like, weekly meetings about a year ago. It was one of those — Paul very seldom yells at me. And he kind of went, like, Bobby Knight on me a little bit on the phone. So I hung up. And I was so bummed. Because I was, like, God, I could not screw up this relationship. Paul is the best ever. And I called Mark Verge, who is my spiritual leader, and said, “Mark, what do I do?” He said, “You get your lazy butt down to Paul’s office. You look him in the eye, and you guys figure out a plan.” We have been doing that once a week with Tom Knust, Mario’s agent, and Mario and Dennis. I think that has helped our luck. Because we are a lot more prepared, a lot more planned. I think it helps all of our confidence as well.
Q. In light of what happened last year with Pharoah, I’m sure the questions are going to come off to both you guys, all you guys in the next two weeks. Could this possibly happen again? How are you going to answer that?
DOUG O’NEILL: Mom, can you light a candle at Sunday mass? We need some higher power there to keep this guy injury-free. That’s how I will answer it.
MARIO GUTIERREZ: One race at a time.
DOUG O’NEILL: Yeah, one race at a time.
Q. Doug, how’s it different going into the races the favorite versus when I’ll Have Another won?
DOUG O’NEILL: I’m glad I’ll Have Another wasn’t the favorite. Because in 2012 I don’t know if I could have mentally taken that. I don’t think there’s enough tequila in Mexico for me to handle that in 2012 as a favorite. But this year we are a lot more mature. And the people that were surrounding Nyquist are a lot more mature. So it felt really good to be a favorite. And I felt it was a real honor. And I got — part of me was, God, I want to represent Nyquist in the proper way. And I think the whole crew did a pretty good job. So felt good being a favorite this time.
Q. Can you talk about your training style and how it developed, what inspired you early on? And then also with Nyquist, have you followed similar patterns that you followed with I’ll Have Another? Or has it been different?
DOUG O’NEILL: I think, as I’ve gotten longer in the tooth, I’ve realized that a really good horse you can train him a hundred different ways. As long as you surround him with people that serve them right and take good care of them, it’s hard to really screw them up. But with this guy, we’ve taken an approach of he gallops with a lot of energy. And then we give him one day of jog and time of recover. In 2012, as probably a lot of you — if you got a chance to see I’ll Have Another gallop, he galloped like a train every day. I thought that was the way — to win classic races, that’s what you had to do. It did work for him. But his career was short. And whether or not it had anything to do with that, I don’t know. But we are doing things differently with Nyquist. And it seems like things are staying colder and tighter longer.
Q. On the track after the race, Keith Desormeaux said he might like to have a rematch with you guys in Baltimore. Is that something you all would look forward to?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: Yeah.
DOUG O’NEILL: He would like a rematch? Well, yeah, I — you answer this.
PAUL REDDAM: I would have thought he was sick of us by now. (Laughter and applause.) No, his horse, obviously, ran great. And he was the closest threat. And, if I were him, I would want a rematch, too. The horses are not machines, so it will be a great race.
Q. Doug, it’s another accomplishment of this horse is to win the juvenile and follow up and win the Derby. It’s a rare horse that’s done that. What did you see in this horse from 2 to 3 and time off that maybe gave you some confidence that, hey, this horse is going to keep moving forward?
DOUG O’NEILL: I think after Del Mar, we ran him 19 days later in the FrontRunner going two turns for the first time. And some bonehead didn’t put the saddle on perfectly — Dennis, no. That was me. And in that race where the saddle slipped a little bit — we didn’t say much it, because I didn’t want everybody to think I was a complete bonehead. But to have Mario, basically, not have a real secure saddle and him do that in the FrontRunner, I thought, okay, we’re on to something here. Thanks for not giving me any grief in the media on that, too. You are the man. You are a team player. Statute of limitations. You can’t do it now.
Q. What was your view of the Bobby Knight conversation that he referenced?
PAUL REDDAM: I actually don’t remember that conversation.
DOUG O’NEILL: Come on. Come on. Bad Read Sanchez got hurt and it was one of those, Paul called me and — usually I call Paul. It just got turned around in the way it happened. It was about 11:00. He was like, Hey, you haven’t called so I thought I would call you. How is Bad Read doing? I was like, Oh, God. I meant to call you. Paul, he got hurt. And then the rest was you — a lot of like beep, beep, beep stuff. Yeah, you were probably — I’m sure — he works his butt off. So it was probably the stock market was crashing. Who knows what was going on in your life. I definitely took some grief, but I think it was the best grief I have ever taken.
JOHN ASHER: Talk about the story of the naming of this colt. I did a radio interview this morning with the Detroit host. Never heard him so over the moon about a Derby horse. There was much excitement up there. Talk about the naming of this colt and what’s that meant to you.
PAUL REDDAM: Well, the horse is named after Gustav Nyquist. He plays for the Red Wings. I have been a life-long Red Wing fan. And partners in a couple horses with Erik Johnson who plays for the Colorado Avalanche. I was telling Erik last year, “Geez, when you are a free agent, you should sign with the Wings.” He said, “I’ll never sign with them. Are you kidding?” So just to get at him, I named a couple of horses after Red Wings. And Nyquist was one of them. Then he was, “Can I buy a piece of Nyquist?” I was like, no. But … (Laughter.) So in the Detroit area, it’s become quite a story. And I guess last — I think it was last night I heard before the Tigers game they were showing clips of the horse Nyquist. And the guys from the broadcaster all are going to come to the Preakness apparently.
Q. This is now, I believe, three straight for southern California horses. Can you talk a little bit about what it means and kind of the state of the circuit?
DENNIS O’NEILL: Doug’s talked about this a lot. I think the weather plays a huge part of that, because we’re able to train. And we train our horses hard. And I think with the weather out here, you can’t do that. We’ve talked about a lot of these horses probably get 80% of their training where we’re able to train 100% of the time. I think that’s a real advantage out there. When we come across the country, our horses are very fit.
PAUL REDDAM: I thought we had better blood stock agents but better not.
DENNIS O’NEILL: I like that, too.
Q. What’s your plan in the morning for him?
DOUG O’NEILL: Probably a lot of water and aspirin for me. (Laughter.) The plan is to walk the shed row with him. And we tentatively — we try not to make too many plans after a race because anything can happen. I think he’s off to Baltimore on Monday, if all goes well. My wife is cool about me not being home. You are cool if I go to Baltimore, right? We’ll be in barn 41 celebrating and group hugging all morning. Probably 6:30. We were there at 4:00 this morning. So it’s been a long day — long good day.
Q. It’s been warm in California and cold on the East Coast forever.
DOUG O’NEILL: Yeah, Dennis. (Laughter.)
DENNIS O’NEILL: They’re not buying that? It just seems like — I know — even Bob ships across the country a lot, and he sure is successful. He has won the Arkansas Derby like —
DOUG O’NEILL: I think you are blessed in California. You don’t have to move around a lot. I think a lot of people on the East Coast, they go down to Florida for the summer. So it takes time to have horses adjust to the new tracks. Where we’re at Santa Anita most of the year, so you are able to train consistently and not worry about having a horse adjust to a new track. That’s definitely an edge as well as mother nature being really kind in it California. Talking at 7:00 in the morning. No lights, real dark, quiet, real quiet on the questions. (Laughter.)
Q. You mentioned a little while ago that you are doing some things now that you weren’t doing four years ago. What are you doing now that you weren’t doing then?
MARIO GUTIERREZ: My wife encouraged me to get a sports psychologist. At the beginning I was a little embarrassed to tell people I was talking to a sports psychologist, but now I’m proud that he helps me. I got a stretch and conditioning coach, better nutritionist. And I actually have a person that comes to my house twice a week just to stretch my body. And I’m feeling great right now.