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
“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
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.
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.