Updated on 10/27/2016 1:59PM

Keeping Lord Nelson on the track paying big dividends for Hughes, Baffert

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Barbara D. Livingston
Lord Nelson has won three Grade 1 races this year and is a leading contender for the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Lord Nelson forced owner B. Wayne Hughes and trainer Bob Baffert into a decision last winter – retire him or race him?

After Lord Nelson finished third in the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes for 3-year-old sprinters at Santa Anita last December, Hughes was strongly considering retiring the colt to his Spendthrift Farm in Kentucky. Hughes and Baffert met to decide whether to race Lord Nelson in 2016. There were merits to both arguments.

As a son of Pulpit, Lord Nelson would be attractive to breeders, and he needed a rest from racing anyway.

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“Baffert said he had a chance of being a Grade 1 winner,” Hughes recalled this week. “I said, ‘Let’s leave him in training and see what he can achieve in the next year.’ ”

As a result, when Lord Nelson goes to stud this winter, he may do so as the champion sprinter of 2016. Unbeaten in four starts this year, including three consecutive Grade 1 wins, Lord Nelson has an excellent chance to win the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita on Nov. 5.

In 2014, Lord Nelson chased American Pharoah, finishing fourth behind him in the Grade 1 FrontRunner Stakes at Santa Anita, and he was briefly on the Triple Crown trail in 2015 when owned by Peachtree Stable.

The 83-year-old Hughes, the founder of Public Storage, bought Lord Nelson last winter as a stallion prospect. But he and Baffert were game for another campaign this year.

“We had a minor issue, and we gave him some time,” Baffert said. “I give credit to B. Wayne Hughes. He could have taken him to the stallion barn.”

In his comeback, Lord Nelson won an optional claimer at six furlongs at Santa Anita on June 3, and he followed by winning his first Grade 1 in the Triple Bend Stakes at seven furlongs at Santa Anita on June 25.

Lord Nelson won the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at six furlongs at Del Mar on July 31 and the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship at Santa Anita on Oct. 8 in his final prep for the BC Sprint.

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In each win, Lord Nelson stalked the pace and made a winning move in the final quarter-mile.

“He’s been spectacular in every race,” Hughes said.

Lord Nelson did not show the same form in 2014 and 2015, when he was 3 for 8 with wins in the Speakeasy Stakes at 2 and the Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at 3, both sprints at Santa Anita. Hopes for a Triple Crown start essentially ended with a fourth-place finish behind the Baffert-trained Dortmund in the Grade 2 San Felipe Stakes in March 2015.

Hughes said Lord Nelson’s pedigree was a big reason why he bought the colt. Lord Nelson is out of African Jade, a mare by Seeking the Gold. African Jade was winless in two starts in France. She is out of Miss Linda, a champion in Argentina who won the Grade 1 Spinster Stakes at Keeneland in 2001.

“We bought him as a stallion prospect,” Hughes said. “If you’ve seen him, he’s an exceptionally good-looking horse. He can win a beauty contest.”

Hughes is seeking his fifth win in a Breeders’ Cup race. His first was with Action This Day in the 2003 BC Juvenile, and his most recent was with Beholder in the 2013 BC Distaff. Both of those races were at Santa Anita. Beholder will have her final start in the BC Distaff on Nov. 4 before being shipped to Spendthrift Farm to be bred in 2017.

If Beholder wins the Distaff, Hughes would be in line for an epic two-day double should Lord Nelson win the BC Sprint.

“He had a chance to be a good horse, but I didn’t think he’d be this good,” Hughes said. “We need to appreciate it because it doesn’t always go that way.”

A previous version of this story misstated the year in which Action This Day won the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. It was 2003, not 1993.