The 6-year-old son of Castledale overcame traffic problems throughout the 1 1/8-mile Polytrack event and notched a come-from-behind victory in the $200,000 contest.
A Kentucky homebred owned by Richard Sherman, Nikki's Sandcastle is out of the Sandpit mare Sandtina.
Sent off with outsider odds of 11-1, Nikki's Sandcastle was most recently seen finishing third in an Aug. 17 allowance optional claiming contest on turf at Arlington Park. The 6-year-old gelding, who ran second in last year's Fayette, recorded his third stakes victory in the 2013 running of the race. Last year, he took the El Prado Stakes at Gulfstream Park, as well as the Sea O Erin Stakes at Arlington Park.
The Fayette marked Nikki's Sandcastle's first score over Polytrack from seven starts, and his second at Keeneland in five attempts; the gelding won on the Keeneland turf in a 1 1/16-mile allowance contest back in 2010. In all, he holds a record of 9-9-4 from 35 starts for earnings of $518,907.
Nine were entered in the Fayette, with Willcox Inn made the 5-2 favorite.
Nikki's Sandcastle sat off the pace in seventh, but kept within striking distance behind pacesetter Set the Sail, who recorded early fractions of :23.96, :48.14, and 1:12.24. Nikki's Sandcastle fought restraint of jockey Leandro Goncalves to the quarter pole before drawing clear in stretch for a 1 1/4-length triumph.
"I was thinking, 'When's he (Goncalves) every going to be able to let him run?" said Kassen after the race. "He just kept pulling him up the whole race practically, but it worked out good in the end.
"I knew he had a lot of horse, but usually when you strangle one that long, they just give it up on you," Kassen continued. "But he kept on; he's a pretty good horse."
"I was in traffic the whole way from the first turn," said Goncalves when asked about his ride on Nikki's Sandcastle. "I had to check five or six times. I didn't have anywhere to go. Turning for home, I was able to get him outside. I had so much horse, it worked out great, and he gave me a good kick."
For Goncalves, the Fayette victory marked his meet-leading third stakes win. Goncalves also won the Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix (gr. III) on Sum of the Parts and the Rood & Riddle Dowager on Preferential.
Nikki's Sandcastle paid $25.80, $11.80, and $6.80, while Winning Cause returned $9.80 and $6. You Know I Know paid $5.20 to show.