Richard Sherman’s 5-year-old homebred gelding Nikki’s Sandcastle has been running strong races for trainer David Kassen this year, finishing second in stakes at Remington Park, Hawthorne and Keeneland in his last three starts. On Saturday, Opening Day at Gulfstream Park, he finally got his day in the winners’ circle when he posted a hard-fought head victory in the $125,000 John Deere Emerald Stakes.
The Emerald at 1 1/16 miles on turf was the next-to-last of the seven Claiming Crown races worth a total of $850,000 run on Opening Day. Ridden by jockey Corey Lanerie, Nikki’s Sandcastle raced up close to the pace on the inside for much of the trip and held off a big rally from Ken and Sarah Ramsey’s 6-year-old Major Marvel in the field of 12.
A Kentucky-bred by Castledale, Nikki’s Sandcastle paid $6.80 for $2 to win as the strong second choice while posting the seventh win of his 29-race career with nine seconds and pushed his career earnings to more than $340,000. Mr. Amore Stable’s 5-year-old Mr. Strike finished third, 1 ¼ lengths behind the top two. The running time was 1:43:13 on ‘firm’ turf.
Kassen said after the race: “It’s been a little frustrating to see him finish second the last three times, but this makes up for it. He runs hard every time and on any surface – dirt, turf, Polytrack – although I think he’s a little better on turf. He ran good in all five of his races here last winter, but got in trouble several times. The jock said he got to loafing when he got to the lead to day, but got it done.
“I didn’t have him when he began his career. He came to me here in December two years ago. He had a chip in his knee. We didn’t have it removed (surgically), but heeled it using a magnetic boot. He doesn’t have any conditions, so we’ll just look for the right stakes to run him in next.”