Nikki’s Sandcastle & Hollinger Clash in El Prado Saturday
Richard Sherman’s 5-year-old gelding Nikki’s Sandcastle, winner of the $125,000 Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes at Gulfstream Dec. 1, will get solid support to win a second stakes at the meet in Saturday’s $75,000 El Prado Stakes. Jockey Corey Lanerie will be back aboard in the one mile turf test for trainer Dave Kassen.
“I would think he’ll be one of the favorites in there,” said Kassen. “He’ll run on any surface – turf, dirt or synthetic – but he’s probably a little better on turf. He gives you his best every time he runs.” The Kentucky homebred chestnut by Castledale broke a frustrating string of three seconds before that victory and goes into Saturday’s race with a 29-7-9-1 career record.
Nikki’s Sandcastle was beaten a head on turf in the DeBartolo Memorial at Remington Park in August, a neck over the Hawthorne course in the Robert F. Carey Memorial in early October and runner-up again in the Fayette Handicap (G2) on Polytrack at Keeneland in late October.
Robert Harvey’s 5-year-old gelding Hollinger will be among the favorites in the full field of 14 with jockey Jose Lezcano to ride for veteran horseman Roger Attfield, inducted into the Saratoga Hall of Fame last summer. A roan/gray Canadian homebred by Black Minnaoushe, Hollinger finished a game second last out when beaten a half-length in the Tropical Turf Handicap (G3) at Calder on Nov. 30.
A career winner of $688,000, Hollinger ran very well in two starts over the Gulfstream course last winter when second in both the Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (G3) in January and the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) in February, when beaten a half-length by Get Stormy.
“He’s been unlucky with poor racing luck a couple of times,” said Attfield. “He’s won one race in two years, but run very well a number of times.” Hollinger worked a sharp half-mile in 47 1/5 on turf Tuesday morning at Payson Park. Hollinger also was a bit unlucky with the draw in post position 13.
Peter Kelly’s 3-year-old gelding Hobbs steps up to face veteran turf stakes performers after scoring a neck victory in the Montserrat Stakes at Aqueduct last out on Nov. 4 over a strong field his own age in his second start for new connections after being claimed for $50,000 at Saratoga in late August.
“It looked like he was a little aggressive in some of his races, so I put blinkers on him and he’s been more relaxed. He’s got a great disposition, nice and laid back around the barn. We actually missed a little training with him before his last race. We were stabled at Monmouth Park when (Hurricane) Sandy hit and could do no more than walk him in the shedrow for several days.”
Jockey Eddie Castro will be down from New York to be back aboard Hobbs for trainer Kathy Mongeon. The Florida-bred son of Put It Back changed barns for the second time in only eight career starts having passed the claim box previously at Belmont Park in mid-June for a $65,000 tag.
Since a sixth-place debut sprinting on dirt in September of 2011, Hobbs has won three times and finished second three times in as many starts on turf with a second on Polytrack at Keeneland in his only other start in April.
The intriguing entry in the field is Jules Boutelle’s 5-year-old gelding Teaks North, supplemented to the race to make his first start since January and first for trainer Rick Dutrow. Jockey John Velazquez gets the call on the son of Northern Afleet, upset winner of the 2011 Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1) before scoring in the United Nations Invitational (G1) that summer at Monmouth Park.
Teaks North went on to finish eighth behind St Nicholas Abbey in the Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) that fall at Churchill Downs. In two disappointing outings here last winter he finished eighth in the Ft. Lauderdale Stakes (G3), although beaten only three lengths for it all, and fifth last out in the Sunshine Millions Turf on Jan. 28.
Completing the field for the El Prado are Robert Liebner’s Bad Debt, Phantom House Farm’s Get Serious, Lawrence A. Durocher, Jr.’s Kharafa, Wertheimer et Frere’s Salto, Patricia Generazio’s Tune Me In, Godolphin Racing’s Xin Xu Lin, Luis Duco’s Empire Builder, Jack Mandato’s Zimmer, Belle Meadows Farm and Lael Stable’s Beau Choix and Mrs. S.K. Johnston, Jr.’s Hoofit.
Pegasus Holding Group Stable’s Tell Tale Friend is ‘also-eligible’ while Sullivan Lane Stable and Dennis Narlinger’s Associate was entered to run ‘main track only’ by trainer Rick Dutrow.