Mr. Nightlinger, who won by one length as the 9-5 choice, now owns back-to-back turf victories. Salute the Count checked in second by one length, while Atticus Kristy came running late to grab third.
W. Bret Calhoun trains the 4-year-old Indian Charlie colt for Carl R. Moore Management and Martin Racing Stable. Mr. Nightlinger came into the Turf Sprint off a front-running win in the April 13 Shakertown Stakes (gr. IIIT) over 5 1/2 furlongs on Keeneland's grass course. That was Mr. Nightlinger's first graded win.
“He’s done it all," said Dennis Geier, assistant to Calhoun. "The turf might be his calling."
With Jamie Theriot aboard, Mr. Nightlinger completed the five furlongs in :56.18 after setting fractions of :22.63 and :44.72.
“It’s really becoming his style to let him fall out of there," Theriot said. "He just places himself and that’s where he wants to be. It looks like we have found a niche with him now – he’s 2-for-2 going short on the turf.”
Mr. Nightlinger, after bobbling a bit at the break, repelled a challenge at the top of the lane from Indian Ashton and held sway over the stalking Salute the Count, who was ridden by Kent Desormeaux. Atticus Kristy, a course and distance specialist for trainer Merrill Scherer, rallied from the back of the pack to get third under Edgar Prado.
“That winner ran a hole in the wind," Desormeaux said. "Even at the eighth pole I thought I had him, but he just kept on motoring. Too tough.”
The winner, making his debut at at Churchill Downs, paid $5.60, $3.40, and $2.60. Salute the Count, trained by Richard Dutrow Jr., returned $4.40 and $3.40. Atticus Kristy was $4.20 to show.
Second choice Indian Ashton, expected to challenge Mr. Nightlinger for the early lead from his far outside post in the field of eight, had a nightmare start and spotted his rivals several lengths. The California invader bobbled at the break and hit the starting gate. After rushing up wide to challenge on the turn, Indian Ashton tired in the stretch to finish fourth.
“(Indian Ashton) was standing in there (at the starting gate) perfect and when they went, he just dropped down and we lost all those lengths," said jockey Julio Garcia. "He just dropped down and we missed the break.”
The Nth Degree, Sgt. Bert, Demarcation and Funky Pirate trailed.
Brereton C. Jones bred Mr. Nightlinger in Kentucky. The bay, a $45,000 Keeneland yearling purchase in September 2005, is out of Timely Quarrel, by Time for a Change.
Earning $76,019 for his sixth win in 15 lifetime starts, Mr. Nightlinger has banked $320,015 in his career.