01/05/2017 3:26PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Lord Nelson

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Shigeki Kikkawa
Lord Nelson finished the season with three straight Grade 1 wins.

When B. Wayne Hughes purchased Lord Nelson following his third-place finish in the 2015 Malibu Stakes, the plan was to retire him to stud at Hughes’s Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. But after Hughes and trainer Bob Baffert discussed what to do with the son of Pulpit, it was decided to keep him in training for his 4-year-old season.

Hughes’s decision paid big dividends as Lord Nelson was perfect on the racetrack in four 2016 starts. He closed out his career with three consecutive Grade 1 wins and is now an Eclipse Awards finalist in both the male sprinter and older dirt male categories.

“After the Malibu, we decided to give him time, and he came back strong,” Baffert said. “He was able to reach his full potential. He was just getting better and better.”

Lord Nelson was bred in Kentucky by Clearsky Farms, which also is the breeder of Arrogate, Baffert’s Eclipse finalist in the 3-year-old division and a leading contender for Horse of the Year. John Fort of Peachtree Stable purchased Lord Nelson for $340,000 at the 2013 Keeneland September sale.

:: Eclipse Awards: 2016 finalists with profiles

Peachtree raced Lord Nelson at ages 2 and 3 before selling him to Hughes. Lord Nelson had a good 3-year-old season, winning the Grade 2 San Vicente and finishing second in the Grade 3 Bay Shore and third in the Grade 1 Malibu. But his form was spotty, and he won only once from five starts.

“He had an issue,” said Baffert, who trained Lord Nelson throughout his career. “It was a muscle thing. He just wasn’t traveling right. So after the Malibu we decided to give him time, and he came back strong.”

Lord Nelson made his first start of the season in June at Santa Anita in an optional-claiming race, which he won by 3 1/2 lengths. He returned three weeks later to win the Grade 1 Triple Bend by a half-length.

Lord Nelson’s next stop was the Grade 1 Bing Crosby at Del Mar on July 31. The weekend didn’t begin well for Hughes, as Stellar Wind upset his multiple champion Beholder, the 1-10 favorite, in the Clement Hirsch.

“Nobody was expecting that,” Baffert said. “It was a shocking loss. It was like Keen Ice beating American Pharoah. I told Mr. Hughes, ‘Don’t worry about it, you have Lord Nelson tomorrow.’ He said, ‘Does he have a chance?’ ”

Lord Nelson moved up to take the lead in upper stretch of the Crosby and pulled away to win by four lengths in a blazing 1:07.65 for six furlongs.

“That win kind of pumped some air back into him,” Baffert said of Hughes.

Lord Nelson concluded his season with a 2 1/2-length victory in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship in early October. He was scheduled to make one final start but a minor injury derailed those plans.

Lord Nelson was entered in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita and installed as the 5-2 morning-line favorite. But Baffert had to scratch him due to an infected cut on his right front foreleg.

“It was disappointing that he got that infection right before the Breeders’ Cup,” Baffert said. “He got a little staph infection. We had to treat it. The timing was terrible.”

Drefong, trained by Baffert, won the Sprint and also is a finalist for champion sprinter.

Although Lord Nelson never won beyond seven furlongs, Baffert said he thinks he could have late in his career.

“We could have run him in the Dirt Mile, but we didn’t want to take a chance,” Baffert said. “He’s a smart horse, a special horse. I think he could have done it.”

Lord Nelson was ridden by Rafael Bejarano in his first two starts of the year and by Flavien Prat in his final two races.

Lord Nelson goes to stud with seven wins from 13 starts and $958,000 in earnings. He will stand his initial season at Spendthrift for a fee of $25,000.