Making his first turf start in more than a year, 21-1 longshot Mr. Nightlinger broke on top and never relinquished his lead, defeating 10 rivals to take the $125,000 Shakertown Stakes (gr. IIIT) (VIDEO) by 1 ¾ lengths under Jamie Theriot April 13 at rainy Keeneland.
Trained by Bret Calhoun, the 4-year-old son of Indian Charlie not only won his first event on the grass, but also earned his first stakes victory. The bay colt entered the 5 ½-furlong Shakertown off a fourth-place finish in the March 22 Hot Springs Stakes on the dirt at Oaklawn Park, where he weakened in the stretch after leading for a half-mile.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Mr. Nightlinger’s win was his ability to outrun Edith Dixon’s Smart Enough in the stretch. A 5-year-old Horse Chestnut gelding, Smart Enough is one of the nation’s premier turf sprinters, having won 10 times (eight stakes) and finishing off the board just once in his 15-start career. Smart Enough entered the Skakertown off a 3 ¼-length score in the Cherokee Stakes last November at Churchill Downs. Trainer John Fisher allowed him to freshen over the winter.
Breaking from post 10, Mr. Nightlinger went right to the lead and posted fractions of :21.90, :45.57, and :57.42. Midwatch, Knights Cross, Atticus Kristy, and Smart Enough were all in contention.
After being steadied around the turn by John Velazquez, Smart Enough made his move along the rail and nearly drew even with Mr. Nightlinger at the eighth-pole. But when Theriot asked Mr. Nightlinger for more, he responded, pulling away from his only challenger in mid-stretch and streaking to the wire for a no-doubt-about-it win.
Smart Enough was 2 1/4 lengths ahead of Fort Prado for second. Midwatch finished fourth. The final time on a turf labeled "good" was 1:03.84.
“He’s an up-closeto-the-pace kind of horse,” Theriot said. “That was our strategy; to let him run to the front. The fractions were kind of quick, but that was OK. When they (Midwatch) came up on him on the outside, he was determined not to let him get by.”
Owned by Martin Racing Stable and Carl Moore, Mr. Nightlinger won three of 10 starts as a 3-year-old -- two of them coming on dirt, while the other was in allowance compnay on the Keeneland Polytrack. Prior to the Shakertown he had started only once on turf, a fourth-place finish at Fair Grounds in his third career outing.
Bred in Kentucky by Brereton Jones, Mr. Nightlinger is out of the Time for a Change mare Timely Quarrel. He has five wins in 14 lifetime efforts.
The winner paid $45.80, $15.60, and $7.60. The exacta (10-2) was worth $193.60.
Last year's Shakertown winner, Atticus Kristy, finished fifth.