Richard Sherman’s 6-year-old gelding Nikki’s Sandcastle, already a
two-time stakes winner on turf at Gulfstream Park this season; and
Stonestreet Farm, George Bolton and Spendthrift Farm’s 5-year-old
Dominus will be among the favorites in a talented field of 11 older
horses drawn for Saturday’s $150,000 Fort Lauderdale Stakes (G2).
Jockey Corey Lanerie gets a return call on Nikki’s Sandcastle for
trainer David Kassen in the 1 1/16-mile turf course test after they
teamed up for victories in the Claiming Crown Emerald on opening day,
Dec. 1, and El Prado Stakes on Dec. 22. The two victories broke an
unlucky streak of three runner-up efforts in stakes at Remington Park,
Hawthorne and Keeneland.
After the El Prado, Kassen suggested that the Kentucky homebred
chestnut by Castledale might start next in the $200,000 John Connally
Stakes (G3) at Sam Houston later this month.
“We decided to avoid the travel and everything that comes with
that,” said the trainer. “We know that each of the races here will get a
little tougher as we go along and we’ll be running back in three weeks,
but he’s been training great and I think he’ll to be able to handle it.
He’s very versatile as you saw when he came out of post 13 from way
back in the Emerald to win, or he can lay up closer like he did last
time in the El Prado. And, if the race were to be forced off turf that
would be all right too.”
John Velazquez will be aboard Dominus for trainer Todd Pletcher as
he makes his first appearance since a fifth-place finish behind Neck ‘n
Neck going a mile on the main track in the Ack Ack Handicap (G3) at
Churchill Downs on Nov.2. The 5-year-old son of Smart Strike won the
Dwyer Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park and finished third in the Jim Dandy
(G2) and fourth in the King’s Bishop (G1) at Saratoga as a 3-year-old.
After a full year on the sidelines, Dominus returned to competition
last summer at Saratoga, won an allowance race on the main track and
then made his turf debut winning the Bernard Baruch Handicap (G2) on
Sept. 1. Next out he tired to sixth behind Horse of the Year candidate
Wise Dan in the Shadwell Turf Mile (G1) at Keeneland in early October
after setting the pace into the upper stretch.
“We thought his first race on turf in the Bernard Baruch was very
good. He didn’t seem to handle the Keeneland turf course too well in the
Shadwell Mile there,” Pletcher said. “We tried him back on the dirt in
the Ack Ack at Churchill and he kind of flattened out. So we feel his
preferred surface is the turf for the moment. Hopefully, we don’t get
any rain, because he seems to like a firm turf course.”
Jockey Javier Castellano will be aboard Big Blue Kitten for trainer
Chad Brown as he makes his first start since a hard-fought victory by a
head against a tough allowance field going a mile over the course on
Dec. 8. That race marked his first start since a sporting trip to
England in the spring when he finished 10th behind international
champion So You Think in the Prince of Wales Stakes (G1) at the Royal
Ascot meet on June 20.
“I was very proud of him,” said Brown of the allowance victory. “You
never know how they will come back from a trip like that. I’m grateful
to Mr. Ramsey for sending him back to me.”
Big Blue Kitten ran very well in two starts over the Gulfstream
course early last year, including a game third-place finish behind Get
Stormy in the Gulfstream Park Turf Handicap (G1).
A Kentucky homebred by the Ramseys’ highly-successful stallion
Kitten’s Joy, Big Blue Kitten began his career at Gulfstream in early
2011, finishing third and breaking his maiden over the course when
racing for a $35,000 claiming tag with no takers. He went on to win his
next four starts including the Hall of Fame Stakes (G2) at Saratoga that
Another contender that should attract solid support is Robert
Harvey’s Canadian homebred 6-year-old gelding Hollinger, second by a
half-length last out in the Tropical Turf Handicap (G3) at Calder on
Nov. 30. Jockey Edgar Prado will have the mount for trainer Roger
Hollinger is a veteran turf-stakes performer with earnings of
$688,000 and was getting a slight class break in the Calder race from
the Woodbine Mile (G1), in which he finished eighth of nine. In one of
his best career efforts here last year Hollinger finished a game second
by a half-length behind Get Stormy in the Gulfstream Turf Handicap.
Completing the field are Joseph Allen’s Vertiformer, Alan Garcia;
Kinghaven Farms and John Fielding’s Fifty Proof, Elvis Trujillo; Michael
Bruder’s Quick Wit, Francisco Torres; Joyce Young and Gerald McManis’
Sky Blazer, Joel Rosario; Signal Hill Farms’ Mucho Mas Macho, Juan
Leyva; Joseph Witek’s Tiz Sardonic Joe,
Jose Lezcano; and Luis Duco Stables’ Empire Builder, J.L. Castanon.
George and Lori Hall’s 5-year-old Pants On Fire was entered to run
‘main track only’ by trainer Kelly Breen with Paco Lopez named to ride.