At 11 a.m. Saturday, trainer David Kassen was thinking of scratching Nikki’s Sandcastle from the $75,000 El Prado Stakes because he was parked outside in post 14.
But Kassen left his horse in the Gulfstream Park one-mile turf stakes, despite the short run to the first turn.
Late in the afternoon, Nikki’s Sandcastle vindicated Kassen’s decision by rallying from 11th place after a half mile and won the El Prado by three-quarters of a length over 17-1 shot Kharafa.
Nikki’s Sandcastle was the 5-1 second choice, even with the unwelcome post position. He was ridden by Corey Lanerie and won in 1:34.48.
“We were very concerned about the outside post,” said Richard Sherman, the owner and breeder of Nikki’s Sandcastle. “It was David’s call to run him. David makes the picks, I just pay the bills.”
Kassen said there were two reasons he left the 5-year-old gelding in the El Prado.
He said the race would be a good prep for the $200,000 John B. Connally (G3), a turf stakes on Jan. 26 at Sam Houston Park in Houston.
The other: “He loves this place,” Kassen said.
With Saturday’s victory, Nikki’s Sandcastle has three wins, a second-place and two third-place finishes in seven turf races at Gulfstream.
With Lanerie riding him for the first time on Dec. 1, he won the Emerald Stakes at 11/16 miles on turf at Gulfstream.
On Saturday, they were forced to go wide around the first turn. Nikki’s Sandcastle was on the outside in 11th place after a fast half mile of 46.22 seconds with Xin Xu Lin in the lead. Nikki’s Sandcastle then made his move around the turn and took the lead in the final 50 yards.
“He broke really well, and my instructions were to move him away from there and send him a little bit and save some ground,” Lanerie said. “I was a little concerned about breaking from post position 14, but I felt in my heart that this horse could come from off the pace.”
If Kassen does not send Nikki’s Sandcastle to Texas, he will choose one of Gulfstream’s turf or dirt stakes for the horse’s next start.
“He is versatile,” Kassen said, “I’d prefer to stay here rather than ship 2,000 miles,” he said. “But $200,000 is $200,000.”
Saez Moving North
Luis Saez, Calder’s leading jockey in wins each of the past three years, will head to New York in April to spend most of the year riding at the major tracks in that state.
Saez will ride at Gulfstream until the end of its meet on April 5. He will then begin riding at Aqueduct in Ozone Park, N.Y.
“I have gained confidence, and think now is the time for New York,” said Saez, a 20-year-old native of Panama.
Saez plans to continue to ride regularly at Gulfstream and come back to Calder for some stakes races.
He is in second place at Gulfstream this season, with 15 wins through Saturday.
Joel Rosario, who is in his first Gulfstream season after being one of Southern California’s top jockeys, leads with 17.
Defending Gulfstream champion Javier Castellano is third with 14 wins.
“People know me, and I am getting good horses,” Saez said, giving credit to his agent, Gil Graell.
Saez rode two winners on Saturday, including the second race aboard the talented 3-year-old Megamove.
Saez took Megamove, at 7-1, to the rail and they led all the way in beating favored Yes I’m Awesome by a half length.
“Luis is a natural athlete,” said Ron Spatz, the trainer of Megamove. “He knows how to push a horse without over-whipping.”
Stars Coming Out
The trainers of Fort Larned and Mucho Macho Man, the winner and runner-up in this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, are planning to have them make their first 2013 starts in separate Gulfstream races.
Fort Larned beat Mucho Macho Man by a half length in the Breeders’ Cup race on Nov. 3 at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
Trainer Ian Wilkes has picked the $300,000 Gulfstream Park Handicap (Grade 2) on March 9 as the likely return race for Fort Larned. The race is one mile on dirt.
On Jan. 19, Mucho Macho Man will seek a repeat victory in the $400,000 Florida Sunshine Millions Classic. The race is 1 1/8 miles on dirt for Florida-breds, 4 years old and up. Kathy Ritvo trains Mucho Macho Man.
Gulfstream will have 10 races Sunday, with no stakes races. First post time is 12:45 p.m.
Gulfstream’s next stakes is the $100,000 Mr. Prospector (Grade 3) on Dec. 29. It is six furlongs on dirt for 3-year-olds and up.