Nikki's Sandcastle rallied from the back of the bulky field of 13 to win the $75,000 El Prado Stakes (VIDEO) on the turf at Gulfstream Park Dec. 22 by three-quarters of a length over 17-1 outsider Kharafa.
Trained by David Kassen and ridden by Corey Lanerie, Nikki's Sandcastle was the tepid morning-line choice in the one-mile test, but instead was sent off at odds of 5-1 after starting from the far outside post. He was forced to circle very wide around rivals nearing the stretch but drove home impressively to kick clear approaching the wire.
Kharafa, who battled for the lead through the lane for Edgar Prado, could not match the winner late but finished 1 1/2 lengths clear of Salto, the favorite at 5-2 under Javier Castellano.
A chestnut by Castledale out of the Sandpit mare Sandtina, Richard Sherman's 5-year-old Kentucky homebred gelding Nikki's Sandcastle posted his second stakes score of the meet after capturing the Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes on the course on opening day Dec. 1.
The El Prado gelding marked his eighth victory in 30 starts with nine seconds and three thirds, good for earnings of $384,067. He paid $12, $5.80, and $3.80 while timed in 1:34:48 on the firm course. Kharafa returned $15 and $8.40, and Salto paid $3 to show.
Kassen said he considered not running Nikki's Sandcastle after drawing the far outside post.
"We were really serious about scratching because of that," he said. "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."
Kassen was referring to the $200,000 John Connally Turf Cup (gr. IIIT) Jan. 26 at Sam Houston Race Park.
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 him back," he said.