12/22/2012 6:10PM

Gulfstream Park: Post 14 in El Prado no problem for Nikki's Sandcastle

Courtney Heeney
Nikki's Sandcastle, ridden by Corey Lanerie, collects his fourth win of the season in the El Prado.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. -  Trainer David Kassen said he contemplated scratching Nikki’s Sandcastle after drawing post position 14 for Saturday’s $75,000 El Prado Stakes at Gulfstream Park. Instead, he was rewarded with an early Christmas present after his red-hot turf specialist circled the field en route to a three-quarter-length victory over 18-1 longshot Kharafa in 1 1/16-mile overnight stakes.

Nikki’s Sandcastle, who had already won the Claiming Crown Emerald Stakes here on opening day, ultimately wound up breaking from post 13 following the scratch of Hollinger from the El Prado. Angled over by jockey Corey Lanerie to save some ground during the early stage of the race, Nikki’s Sandcastle unleashed a steady rally once taken to the extreme outside on the second turn, roaring past the tiring leaders to his fourth victory of the season.

Kharafa slipped along the hedge to be second best, finishing  1 1/2 lengths in front of 2-1 favorite Salto, who gained command in early stretch before weakening gradually through the final furlong.

Nikki’s Sandcastle, a son of the Irish-bred Castledale, is trained by Kassen for owner Richard Sherman. He concluded his 2012 season with earnings of nearly $265,000.

“We were very concerned about the post and were really seriously thinking about scratching because of that,” said Kassen. “We have another race down the road in Texas that we were maybe planning for on the 26th and I was thinking this would be a good prep for him even if we don’t win. Rather than having to do a lot of training I’d just as soon  run him. So it worked out well.”

Kassen was referring to the $200,000 John Connally, a Grade 3 Stakes, at Sam Houston on Jan. 26.

“He seems to love this track and the jock rode him good,” said Kassen. “He looped the field but that’s all it took you know. Just stay out of trouble and don’t get stopped.”

Kassen said he will still consider the Connally or he could keep Nikki’s Sandcastle in Florida for turf stakes later in the meet.

“The race in Texas is for $200,000 and it will probably be a lot softer than the horses he’ll have to run against around here,” said Kassen.