10/26/2013 5:38PM

Keeneland: Nikki's Sandcastle strong in stretch of Fayette

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Nikki's Sandcastle, with Leandro Golcalves aboard, pays $25.80 as the winner of Fayette.

Nikki’s Sandcastle, second in the Grade 2 Fayette Stakes on the closing day of Keeneland’s 2012 fall meet, went one better on the final day of the 2013 meet, emerging from traffic and rallying for an upset victory in the $200,000 closing-day feature.

Making just his third start back from a knee chip that kept him on the shelf for five months, Nikki’s Sandcastle gave his connections a few anxious moments early in the Fayette, fighting jockey Leandro Goncalves for rein as he raced in seventh and in traffic. Nikki’s Sandcastle ($25.80) swung to the outside for the drive and surged down the lane to collar Winning Cause in the final stages, winning by 1 1/4 lengths. Winning Cause was a clear second by another 1 1/4 lengths to You Know I Know.

The final time for the 1 1/8 miles over Polytrack was 1:48.13.

“He just never had anywhere to go,” trainer David Kassen said. “It wasn’t the rider’s fault – he was just a victim of circumstance. I’ve seen a lot of horses who, when you have to pull them up that much, they make a little run and they give it up. He didn’t – he kept going.”

The 6-year-old Nikki’s Sandcastle, who runs as a homebred for Richard Sherman, recorded his first graded stakes victory in the Fayette after twice having his career interrupted by chips in his left knee.

After running second to Newsdad in last year’s Fayette, Nikki’s Sandcastle won a starter stakes, followed by the El Prado Stakes on turf at Gulfstream Park. But he then finished fourth in the Grade 2 Ft. Lauderdale and sixth in the Grade 2 Mac Diarmada, sustaining a chip to his left knee in the latter race that kept him out of action until July.

In his most recent outing, Nikki’s Sandcastle was third in an optional claiming event Aug. 17 at Arlington Park. Kassen had shipped Nikki’s Sandcastle to Indiana Downs for the Michael G. Schaefer Memorial Stakes on Oct. 5, but elected to scratch and wait for the Fayette when the track came up sloppy.

“He’s pretty good – we’ve just got to work on him a lot, but he holds in there,” Kassen said. “He’s been training good. He always trains good.”

Kassen said Nikki’s Sandcastle will ship to Gulfstream Park on Tuesday and will make his next start there.