Sierra Farm's homebred Nessy has had his share of opportunities to take down his first graded win.
In just the last six months, Nessy came in second in the Sycamore Stakes (G3T) at Keeneland, finished second again in the W. L. McKnight Handicap (G3T) at Gulfstream Park, and rallied from far back to get third in the Mac Diarmida Stakes (G2T).
The way he was running, he figured to break through at some point. On April 22, he did in the $100,000 San Juan Capistrano Stakes (G3T) at Santa Anita Park, a day after his full brother, grade 1 winner Bullards Alley, was euthanized following an injury in the Dixiana Elkhorn Stakes (G2T) at Keeneland.
The trip west for Nessy and trainer Ian Wilkes did the trick, as the 5-year-old Flower Alley gelding found enough in the final furlong to pass frontrunning longshot A Red Tie Day and win the marathon grass race. The final time for the about 1 3/4 miles on firm turf was 2:48.03.
"(I'll come out more) if I've got the right horse. Otherwise, they kick my butt," Wilkes said. "If you don't have the right horse—there's good horsemen out here."
Under jockey Mike Smith, Nessy trailed in fifth early as the field made its way down the Santa Anita hillside turf course, then advanced into striking position in the backstretch, angled out at the top of the stretch, and surged to the wire. A Red Tie Day set fractions of :48.44, 1:13.01, and 1:40.29 through a mile and dug in late to hold off Rye by a head for second.
"He loved every bit of that mile and three-quarters," said the Hall of Fame jockey, who has a friendship with Wilkes that goes back several years.
"He doesn't make many mistakes in big races," Wilkes said. "I've known Mike for a long time, and I count him as a friend as well as a great jockey. He's always in a good position, and the horse was always traveling nice. He's just got to outkick them in the lane.
"My wife keeps telling the story—she knew Mike when he had hair, back in the days at Arlington before he went to New York. I could have put anyone on. He's a nice horse ... but we have a long history with Mike, so that was the reason."
Back east, the result didn't take the sting away from Bullards Alley's trainer, Tim Glyshaw, but he was happy for his former trainee's sibling and the winning connections.
"I'm really happy for Ian and happy for the horse," Glyshaw said. "He's repeating what Bullards Alley did, getting good at the longer distances, and it took us a while to figure that out, too.
"It's still a pretty sad deal, though. (Jockey) Corey (Lanerie)—and we—think he got bumped and took an awkward step. He was the soundest horse in the barn, and that's what makes it even harder."
Evo Campo, the only mare in the field, tracked the early leader in second through most of the San Juan Capistrano, but she flattened out in the stretch and came in fourth. Lazzam, Principal Bob, and Moonman completed the order of finish.
Bred in Kentucky out of the Kris S. mare Flower Forest, Nessy has $300,420 in earnings and a 3-6-6 record from 21 starts.
After the race, Wilkes said the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup Invitational (G2T) June 8 was "a possibility" for Nessy. He indicated the dark bay would have to step up to take a run at a race like the Longines Breeders' Cup Turf (G1T).
"He's got to improve," Wilkes said. "Let's be honest. I'm not taking anything away from any horse in (this) race, but he does have to move forward. It may be another year before (a Breeders' Cup try). He's just getting good now."