Mr. Nightlinger, one of the better turf sprinters in the country, overcame a wide starting berth under Jamie Theriot to post a 1 1/2-length win in the $98,500 Jim McKay Turf Sprint at Pimlico May 15.
The five-furlong test for older horses was renamed in tribute for McKay, the former ABC sports commentator and leading proponent of Maryland racing who died last June at the age of 86.
The speedy Mr. Nightlinger outfought Natural Seven for the early lead while breaking from post 9 in the 10-horse field and never got a breather while maintaining a head advantage through swift fractions of :21.95 and :44.35 on a turf course rated 'firm.' Mr. Nightlinger drifted out in spite of right-handed urging by Theriot in the final furlong but edged away in deep stretch to win. The winning time was :56.29.
Blue Sailor, who stalked the winner on the outside, finished gamely for Harry Vega to gain the place spot by a neck over the late-running Rouse the Cat and Jose Lezcano. True to Tradition, well positioned along the inside before tiring late, finished a nose behind in fourth, with 9-5 favorite Heros Reward another half-length back in fifth.
Heros Reward, ridden by Javier Castellano while carrying top weight of 124, was favored off his win in Keeneland's 5 1/2-furlong Shakertown (gr. IIIT) April 11, a race in which Mr. Nightlinger finished fifth as the favorite. That was Mr. Nightlinger's first start since he stopped in the Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita last fall.
"The last time we knew he needed a race," Theriot said. "I got a chance to work him last week and he showed me he was back to himself. He doesn’t mind pressure if it’s there.”
Owned by Martin Racing Stable and Carl Moore Management, Mr. Nightlinger earned $60,000 for his 10th lifetime win in 21 starts, pushing his bankroll to $428,607. He has won six times in nine tries on turf, including stakes at Keeneland, Churchill Downs and Arlington Park last year.
Bret Calhoun trains the 5-year-old son of Indian Charlie--Timely Quarrel, by Time for a Change. Brereton C. Jones bred the bay horse in Kentucky.
“In these sprint races, there’s always plenty of speed," Calhoun said. "We drew favorably. We were outside where we could apply pressure instead of getting pressure applied on us. Things worked out very well.”
Sent off as the second choice in the field of 10, Mr. Nightlinger carried 118 pounds and paid $6.40, $4.80, and $3.80 while topping a $2 exacta worth $66.20. Blue Sailor ended a four-race winning streak for trainer Howard Wolfendale, returning $9.20 and $5.60. Rouse the Cat was $6.60 to show.
Atticus Kristy, Halton, and Awakino Cat scratched.