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Nikki's Sandcastle Heads Full El Prado Field

10 January 2010: Horses out of the gate during the Dania Beach Stakes at Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, FL.
Defending titlist Nikki's Sandcastle, a winner last time out of the Fayette (G2) at Keeneland, leads an overflow field of 16 in Saturday's $100,000 El Prado Stakes at Gulfstream Park.                       

Trained by David Kassen, the consistent 6-year-old missed five months after undergoing surgery for a knee chip last winter, but is clearly rounding back into his old form following the win in the Fayette two months ago on Keeneland’s Polytrack.             

“He had a knee chip the last time he ran here [on February 18 in the Mac Diarmida Stakes],” trainer David Kassen reported. “This is his fourth race back. He had a foot bruise [over the summer], but he’s seems to be over that and he’s doing really well right now. He’s coming into the race in good shape.”            

Rain washed Thursday’s races off of the turf onto the main track, and Kassen is hoping the ground dries up for Saturday. The weekend forecast calls for partly cloudy skies with only a 10 percent chance of showers.             

“He doesn’t really like soft turf, but he seems to run on everything else,” Kassen said. “Hopefully, he can be off the pace, maybe three or four lengths off, depending on what the pace is like. He’s pretty versatile—he can lay right up close or he can come from way out of it. We’ll play it by ear and see how it shapes up. I think he’ll run well here.”            

Drawn in post nine, Nikki’s Sandcastle will be ridden by Joe Rocco Jr. He will carry 122 pounds.            

Trainer Christophe Clement will saddle Philly Ace in the El Prado as the 5-year-old attempts to mount a comeback. The progressive Pennsylvania-bred looked to have a bright future following his determined victory in the Tropical Turf Handicap (G3) at Calder 13 months ago, but he was benched thereafter.            

“He’s a nice horse,” Clement said of the Brushwood Stable homebred. “Unfortunately, after he won the Grade 3 a year ago, he had a small suspensory problem and needed six months off before he could come back. He’s been training well and he looks well.”            

Jockey Joe Bravo, who rode Philly Ace earlier in his career, will be back in the saddle on Saturday. The duo will break from the 12 hole.              

Lea, who knocked heads with champion Wise Dan over the summer for trainer Al Stall Jr., will be making his first appearance for the Bill Mott barn in the El Prado. The chestnut 4-year-old was fifth, three lengths behind Nikki’s Sandcastle, in the Fayette last out. He drew the outside post 14 and will have the services of Luis Saez.            

The El Prado field is rounded out by Mr. Online, Empire Builder, Coalport, Hobbs, Grand Tito, Looking Cool, Hakama, Alley Oop Oop, Guys Reward, Salto and Riding the River. Utley is an also-eligible, while Majestic Express is main-track only.

 

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