Shut off along the hedge in the final furlong, Nistle's Crunch altered his path sharply for jockey Robby Albarado and caught favored Seaspeak in the final yards to win the $112,900 Commonwealth Turf (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) at Churchill Downs Nov. 9.
Nistle's Crunch earned his first stakes win for the sizzling Kenny McPeek barn, scoring by a half-length while completing the 1 1/16-mile turf event for 3-year-olds in 1:44.48 over a firm course.
The Van Nistelrooy colt out of the Island Whirl mare Sam Eye Am is owned and bred by Alien Farm. The New Jersey-bred ran seventh in the Florida Derby (gr. I) and fifth in the Haskell Invitational (gr. I) on dirt this year. But he has been hitting hard in his turf starts since the spring and finally broke through here while being overlooked at odds of 7-1.
Seaspeak, disqualified from victory in the Bryan Station Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland in his last start Oct. 12, had a slight edge over an unlucky Jimmy Simms approaching the wire, but was denied by the quickly closing Nistle's Crunch. Seaspeak, the 2-1 choice ridden by Kent Desormeaux, won a photo for second by a neck over Jimmy Simms and Shaun Bridgmohan. Snoose Goose and Veiled Prophet were each a nose farther back in fourth and fifth, respectively.
Nistle's Crunch ran sixth in the Bryan Station, his only out-of-the-money performance in five previous starts on grass this year.
"I think the race at Keeneland was a bit of a throw-out; it seemed like nothing quite went right going into the race or during the race," said McPeek, who is winning at a 33% clip at the current meet. "But Robby rode him to a ‘T’ today.”
The winner was well placed along the inside while racing mid-pack in the 10-horse field. Cherokee Triangle set a moderate pace for the opening half-mile (:24.83, :49.63), with Jimmy Simms on his outside before Jimmy Simms put a head in front after completing six furlongs in 1:13.94. Jimmy Simms led the field through the lane in determined fashion while being tackled by the stalking Seaspeak, only giving in close to home.
Nistle's Crunch, who had shifted off the rail slightly for the stretch run, angled back to the hedge inside the furlong marker. He then had to steady and alter course when blocked to split horses, finishing in a rush to gain an improbable victory.
“He was dressed and ready every point down the lane," Albarado said. "I just bided my time and waited for some room. I had some opening at the eighth pole and tried to dive in there but got squeezed out. Fortunately, I got out late and he came home nice. It was a nice finish.
"I think the turf course is a little soft today and conducive to his style. He got over it real nice.”
The victory improved Nistle's Crunch career record to 4-3-4 in 14 starts with earnings of $356,251 including the Commonwealth's winning share of $66,500. The bay colt has won twice on the grass in eight tries, while finishing in the money seven times.
Sent off as the fifth choice, Nistle's Crunch paid a healthy $17.20, $6.60, and $4.40 while leading a $2 exacta worth $57.20. Seaspeak, a son of Mizzen Mast trained by Alex Clarkson, returned $4.40 and $3.
“He likes to lean on his neighbors," Desormeaux said of the favorite. "That got him DQ’d last time, and today I think it cost him the race. He’s a little quirky. We’ll figure him out. He’s got a lot left in him, that’s for sure.”
Jimmy Simms, making his stakes debut for Steve Asmussen, paid $4 to show.
Snoose Goose and Veiled Prophet both finished up well, followed by Amazing Results, Cherokee Triangle, Allsarott, Mr Maccool, and Boss Lafitte. Silver Mountain was scratched.