By Craig Harzmann
For a couple fond of naming their horses after movie characters, the chance to participate in a Breeders’ Cup World Championship event right next door to Tinseltown is sure to be an epic experience. A triumph by the powerhouse Mr. Nightlinger in the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint Oct. 25, of course, would be tantamount to a Hollywood ending.
“The Duke” would definitely be proud.
“Yeah, we like John Wayne movies,” explained Bill Martin, who co-owns Mr. Nightlinger with wife, Stevie, and Carl and Velinda Moore. “I especially liked the character Mr. Nightlinger in the movie "The Cowboys." The movie’s about John Wayne gathering up some schoolboys to take them on a cattle drive. There were no men to move these cattle to the market in Kansas, and all the little boys wanted to get out of school and volunteered. It was a coming-of-age story. These little boys, they started out having a lot of fun, they were green, and they didn’t know anything.
“And it was Mr. Nightlinger” – Jebediah Nightlinger to be exact, portrayed by the inimitable Roscoe Lee Browne – “when times got tough and these kids started missing their mothers, who took them under his wing and got them through it,” Martin continued. “He turned them from boys into men. That was one of the few movies that John Wayne actually died in. It’s just one of those classic John Wayne films.”
As groom Salvador Rangel kept busy poulticing Mr. Nightlinger’s front legs Thursday morning, the Martins and trainer Bret Calhoun stood in admiration nearby, quietly confident about the colt’s chances against the likes of Idiot Proof, California Flag, and Fleeting Spirit two days hence. The 4-year-old shipped west from his Kentucky base and arrived Wednesday, bedding down in the Santa Anita barn of Bob Baffert.
“He’s been OK with the weather so far,” mentioned Calhoun. “I was a little concerned yesterday because it was extremely hot, and he spent quite a bit of time on the van getting here from the airport. But I think he thinks California’s all right.”
No doubt. A son of Indian Charlie out of the Time for a Change mare Timely Quarrel, Mr. Nightlinger has settled in as if he were born and raised on sunshine, sand, and Santa Ana winds, all of which is sure to cause his Breeders’ Cup opponents to sleep with one eye open over the next couple of nights.
He has been a one-horse wrecking crew this year, going five-for-five since Calhoun permanently shifted him to the grass in April. Along the way, the muscular dark bay has sped to victory in no less than four stakes events – the Shakertown Stakes (gr. IIIT) at Keeneland, the Churchill Downs Turf Sprint (gr. IIIT), and Arlington Park’s Taylor’s Special Stakes and Arlington Sprint Handicap. Jamie Theriot, who has been aboard for each win, will be in the irons once again in the Turf Sprint. Mr. Nightlinger will break from the 14-hole and is listed at 6-1 on the morning line.
Post time for the 6 1/2-furlong Turf Sprint is 1:50 p.m. EDT (10:50 a.m. PDT).