It would be anthropomorphic to claim that Nessy won Sunday’s $100,690 San Juan Capistrano (G3) for his ill-fated full brother, Bullards Alley, as if he were motivated by the grief still fresh from Saturday’s Elkhorn (G2) at Keeneland. But for us fans watching the storied marathon at Santa Anita, Nessy’s first stakes victory could not have come at a more poignant moment, and we can view it as a passing of the torch to the younger brother.
The two sons of Flower Alley and the Kris S. mare Flower Forest represent different connections. Five-year-old Nessy, still maturing in the long-distance turf ranks, is a homebred campaigned by Ed and Sharon Hudon’s Sierra Farm and trained by Ian Wilkes. The year-older Bullards Alley was bred by Eugene Melnyk but sold as an unraced juvenile. For his team – trainer Tim Glyshaw and owners Wayne Spalding and Faron McCubbins – Bullards Alley developed into a mainstay in the division. He scored his signature win in last October’s Canadian International (G1), and his bankroll was approaching millionaire status.
Nessy and Bullards Alley competed against each other a few times. Bullards Alley beat Nessy when they were third and sixth, respectively, in the 2017 Louisville H. (G3), and the elder prevailed again, but only by a neck, when they finished sixth and seventh in the Kentucky Turf Cup (G3). In their final meeting, however, Nessy edged Bullards Alley as the brothers posted a second and third to Oscar Nominated in the January 27 W.L. McKnight (G3) at Gulfstream Park.
In his only interim start, Nessy garnered another stakes placing when third to Sadler’s Joy and One Go All Go (the future Elkhorn winner) in the March 3 Mac Diarmida (G2). The progressive gelding therefore brought key formlines into Santa Anita, where bettors sent him off as the 4-5 favorite in anticipation of a breakthrough.
Nessy did not disappoint, traveling like a winner much of the way beneath Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith. Allowed to find his feet near the rear early, he steadily improved his position while saving ground. Nessy was four lengths off the front-running A Red Tie Day at the half-mile split in :48.44, but cut that in half as he cruised into third. A Red Tie Day continued to dole out fractions of 1:13.01, 1:40.29, 2:06.77, and 2:32.00 until trying to spurt clear in the homestretch.
Tipping out for a clear run at the leader, Nessy stayed on strongly to mow down A Red Tie Day by a length. The about 1 3/4-mile stamina test was completed in 2:48.03.
A Red Tie Day nearly managed to wire the time-honored feature, and the 11-1 shot fought to retain second by a head from late-running Rye. The mare Evo Campo, who failed to relax while stalking A Red Tie Day, wound up fourth. Lazzam, Principal Bob, and Moonman rounded out the order under the wire.
Nessy’s scorecard now stands at 21-3-6-6, $300,420. He’s collected a total of four stakes placings, including runner-up efforts in last year’s John’s Call at Saratoga and the Sycamore (G3) at Keeneland.
The third graded winner produced by stakes victress Flower Forest, Nessy has another notable full brother, Karibu Gardens, who captured the 2014 Sky Classic (G2). His third dam is 1988 Hollywood Oaks (G1) queen Pattern Step, also the ancestress of 2011 Arkansas Derby (G1)-winning sire Archarcharch, Arch Swing, Customer Base, and Colonelsdarktemper.
Quotes from Santa Anita
Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith: “I was so happy to be able to ride for Ian (Wilkes). We go way back, to when he was working for Carl Nafzger in Chicago. As you know, these owners have always wanted to win this race and they pointed for it with this horse. I did ride him with a lot of confidence. I was able to run him up into a couple spots and get him to turn on and turn off. He’s a really classy horse. You can feel him getting into a rhythm and he’s breathing deeply in and out…He’s the kind of horse that’ll run all day and when we hit the wire, his ears were pricked.”
Trainer Ian Wilkes: “This race is all for Ed (Hudon, co-owner and breeder). The horses went slow enough where he had to beat them, but he’s a cool horse. He’s getting better, that’s the whole thing about it. He’s improving. He’s just five. He’s still a young horse at this stage for this game, because if we stay in business (keep racing him), he’ll get better as we go on.
“He galloped this morning. He’s the kind of horse, he gets a little stirred up, so we wanted him to think it’s a normal day…Get that chicken dinner out!
“He’ll go back east. Where he goes next, I don’t know yet. We’ll enjoy this first.”