Talk about a horse with a past life. Four years ago, Anak Nakal won the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs for trainer Nick Zito. The son of Victory Gallop performed capably in enough big races over the next few months to earn a trip to the 2008 Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (G1), where he ran seventh behind Big Brown. In his next start, the Belmont (G1), he finished in a dead heat for third behind stablemate Da’Tara. Three months later, Anak Nakal won the million-dollar Pennsylvania Derby (G2). He even went to Dubai, finishing 14th in the 2009 Dubai World Cup (G1).
On Friday, the millionaire Anak Nakal – now six – will make his first start at Keeneland and his debut on grass in a one-mile turf race that will mark just the 23rd race of his career.
“He’s all class,” said Tim Girten, who trains Anak Nakal for owner Kassem Masri’s Four Roses Thoroughbreds. Friday’s race will be Anak Nakal’s third start for Girten, who saddled him in two races over the all-weather surface at Presque Isle Downs. The horse won a one-mile allowance on September 1 and eight days later was eighth after a rough trip in the Presque Isle Mile, won by Wise Dan.
Girten, whose mother is the successful Ohio-based trainer Shirley Girten, has been training on his own since 1994. About two years ago, he began training a few horses for Four Roses and now handles about 18 horses for the operation. Girten has raced a few horses at Keeneland over the years, but has never been stabled here until now.
“Coming from a synthetic surface in Pennsylvania, we wanted to stick with synthetic,” he said about the move to Keeneland, where he has 10 horses. “I’ve got a lot of nice young babies, so I wanted to bring the whole string here.
“I’m very excited (to be at Keeneland), glad to be at this level finally. It’s taken a long time but I feel like I can be here and compete.”
Girten said he learned that Anak Nakal had trained on turf prior to winning the Pennsylvania Derby. That hints at possible success on Friday and in the future.
“He’s actually a very sound horse, so we think there’s a lot of good things in sight,” Girten said. “We’re looking to run him in some nicer races. On Friday, I just want a nice, clean trip with an honest chance to run.”
Ridden by Jesus Castanon, Anak Nakal will break from post nine in the 12-horse race. Among his rivals is Sweet Ducky, who is making his first start since March, when he ran 13th in the UAE Derby (G2). After a second in the Holy Bull (G3) in January, the 3-year-old son of Pulpit was purchased by Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov and sent to Dubai for the UAE Derby. He is now trained by Seth Benzel.