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Nicky the Vest better than the rest in open-length Gander victory
Credit: NYRA

Nicky the Vest better than the rest in open-length Gander victory

OZONE PARK, NY – Robert LaPenta’s Nicky the Vest rewarded his even-money favoritism in his stakes debut, taking command in the turn and drawing away from a seven-horse field to win by 11 3/4 lengths in Sunday’s $100,000 Gander for New York-bred 3-year-olds at Aqueduct Racetrack.

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After winning his first start on December 18 in a one-turn mile at the Big A, trainer Jonathan Thomas saw him replicate that effort at the same track and distance, cruising in the stretch under meet-leading rider Kendrick Carmouche to easily outkick Lobsta. Nicky the Vest, a Runhappy colt, became his sire’s first stakes winner.

Nicky the Vest broke sharply from post 5, staying in second position behind pace-setter Lobsta with the opening 1/4-mile in 23.61 seconds and the 1/2 in 47.17 on the fast main track.

Carmouche urged Nicky the Vest outside of Lobsta to take command with 3/4 of a mile in 1:12.33. He continued to press on in the stretch, completing the course in a final time of 1:37.94 while geared down in the final 70 yards.

“He broke real sharp, had me in a good spot and the track has been good with forward positioning,” said Carmouche, who won his sixth stakes of the meet. “When I asked him, he responded very, very well. Jonathan Thomas and his assistant and their team did a good job of getting this horse back to the races after a couple months off.

“As long as I got my horse going at the pace he’s going, I don’t worry about the person next to me,” Carmouche added. “I figured once I asked him, he should respond and he got me to the winner’s circle.”

Purchased for $110,000 at the 2019 OBS Yearling Sale, Nicky the Vest more than doubled his career earnings in improving to 2-for-2, upping his bankroll to $88,500.

“We were very pleased with him,” Thomas said. “He trained that way leading up to it and it’s always nice to see what you’re seeing in the morning replicated in the afternoon.

“We felt we needed to get him out of there,” he added. “His stamina is a key strength of his and we didn’t want to get him in behind horses and have him take dirt. That’s an unknown variable with him. We didn’t want to do that today, so we planned on being aggressive.”

Nicky the Vest, bred by Highclere, returned $4.30 on a $2 win wager. Thomas said he could possibly target the $300,000 Gotham (G3) going 1 mile on March 6 at Aqueduct in a race that offers 50-20-10-5 qualifying points to the top four finishers towards the Kentucky Derby (G1).

“Because we gave him 60 days between his maiden win and this start, I’d feel comfortable we could contemplate that,” Thomas said. “But we’ll leave that up to the team.

“John Panagot [LaPenta’s racing manager] will be a big barometer here,” he continued. “We’ll digest the race and see how he comes out of it and keep a lot of options open. If we do step out [outside of New York-bred company], he’s run well here on this track so it stands to reason we would stay here.”

Lobsta, making his first stakes appearance in his third career start for trainer Gary Sciacca, finished a 1/2-length in front of Perfect Munnings for second.

“This horse is a really classy horse,” said Lobsta rider Eric Cancel, who notched 4 victories on the day in addition to his runner-up effort. “He likes to run on the lead and his brother [2020 Gander winner Chowda] was the same way, so I just figured to ride him the same way. He was in a perfect spot. As soon as they pushed the button on the other horse. He kept on for second and fought well the whole way.”

Dancing Buck, Horn of Plenty, Uno, and Re Created completed the order of finish.

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