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Nikki’s Sandcastle Rallies to El Prado Victory
Richard Sherman’s 5-year-old Kentucky homebred gelding Nikki’s Sandcastle rallied from the back of the bulky field of 13 to win Saturday's $75,000 El Prado Stakes at Gulfstream Park by three-quarters of a length over Lawrence Durocher Jr.'s longshot Kharafa.
Trained by David Kassen and ridden by Corey Lanerie, Nikki’s Sandcastle was the tepid morning-line choice in the one-mile turf test at 7-to-2, but was sent off at odds of 5-to-1 as he had to break from the far outside post 13 and was forced to circle very wide around rivals nearing the stretch. Wertheimer Stable’s Salto was the favorite at 5-to-2 and ran well to finish third, 1 ½ lengths behind the runner-up.
A chestnut by Castledale, Nikki’s Sandcastle was posting his second stakes score of the meet after capturing the $122,000 Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes over the course on opening day, Dec. 1. The El Prado marked his eighth victory in 30 starts with nine seconds and three thirds. He paid $12 for $2 to win and was timed in 1:34:48 over the ‘firm’ course.
Kassen admitted, however, he considered not running Nikki's Sandcastle after drawing the No. 14 post.
“We were really serious about scratching because of that," said Kassen of the draw. "We had another race down the road in Texas we're kind of planning for so I said, 'This will be just a good prep for it even if we don't win.' Rather than having to do a lot of training I'd just as soon run him. So it worked out good."
Lanerie said after Nikki's Sandcastle broke well his plan was to "send him a little bit and save some ground."
"About halfway through the first turn I looked over my shoulder and saw about five or six of them and realized the plan wasn't going to work, so I started to ease her back," he added.
But the trip didn't bother Nikki's Sandcastle. Kassen was asked if he was still thinking about shipping to Texas for the $200,000 John Connally (G3) Jan. 26.
"We're thinking about that.," he said. "We could stay here. There's a $200,000 out there at 1 1/8th mile on the turf. It will probably be a lot softer than the horses we'd have to run against here. We'll play it by ear. I'd prefer to stay here rather than ship 2,000 miles. But $200,000 is $200,000."