Nicanor’s debut wasn’t one to remember.
Hurting himself on his very first stride, the 3-year-old full brother of 2006 Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro finished 10th of 12 horses in a one-mile maiden race at Gulfstream Park on Saturday, hardly an encouraging step toward what his connections hoped would be a journey into this year’s Triple Crown races.
Under jockey Edgar Prado, who was aboard ill-fated Barbaro three years ago, Nicanor made a move near the half-mile mark but never got close to the lead and eventually slowed to little more than a gallop, beaten 25 lengths by 30-1 shot Warrior’s Reward (VIDEO).
But really, it was over at the start, when Nicanor (by Dynaformer) essentially stumbled over his own feet.
“The back of his foot grabbed his quarter coming out of the gate,” said co-owner Roy Jackson. “It’ll be a bit painful. … But we got the first race in him, and we’ll go from here.”
Nicanor’s debut came two years and two days after Barbaro, who shattered his right hind leg in the Preakness, was euthanized because of complications from that injury.
Even after the rocky start, Nicanor settled in near the rail. After passing the half-mile pole, Prado moved Nicanor into traffic a bit, trying to find a hole, but one never opened.
With that, Prado saved Nicanor for another day.
“We got a horrible break,” Prado said. “He stumbled out of the gate. After that, I realized we didn’t have much today. I thought I could get him in position to do something after the start, but he just didn’t have anything after that. I didn’t want to do anything stupid.”
There was plenty of buzz around Gulfstream on Saturday, partly because of the Grade 3, $150,000 Holy Bull Stakes for Derby-hoping 3-year-olds (where Saratoga Sinner prevailed) and the Grade 1, $500,000 Donn Handicap for older horses (the race that immediately followed Nicanor’s debut, with Albertus Maximus holding off Finallymadeit for a narrow victory in that 1-1/8 mile test).
But mostly, the talk around Gulfstream’s rail Saturday was all Nicanor, all the time.
When co-owner Gretchen Jackson walked past the finish line area at 3:15 p.m. — more than an hour before Nicanor went to the post—two men scrambled to capture the moment on cell phone cameras, one of them shouting “Good luck!” as she made her way by. Trainer Michael Matz heard many of the same cries as he climbed the stairs to his seat before the race.
And as Nicanor came into the view of fans for the first time at 4:25, many in the estimated crowd of 3,000 packed five-deep around the saddling ring broke into applause, with a few more clapping when Prado climbed aboard for the short trek over to the track. The 4-1 second choice in the morning line was actually bet down to 3-5 at one point, before going off at 5-2.
“I don’t think you can really tell a great deal from this,” Roy Jackson said. “He ran really fast at the beginning, which didn’t help the situation.”
Barbaro had plenty of history at Gulfstream, winning the Holy Bull there three years ago before going on to win the Kentucky Derby by 6 1/2 lengths.
But he never finished another race. He shattered three bones in his right hind leg in the opening strides of the Preakness, then defied the odds by surviving eight months and enduring close to two dozen operations, but ultimately succumbed to laminitis, an often life-threatening problem in horses who shift their weight to one leg to keep pressure off another injured limb.
The second anniversary of Barbaro’s death was Thursday, which made Nicanor’s debut come at a bittersweet time for Prado, Matz and the Jacksons.
It’s unclear when Nicanor will run again; his connections will have to wait and see how severe the injury is before figuring out the 3-year-old’s next move.
“We have an excuse,” Gretchen Jackson said. “So we’ll have to wait ‘til next time.”