June 21, 2024

Nest rules the roost in Ashland

Nest wins the Ashland Stakes (Photo by Coady Photography)

For the second straight year, Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher won the $587,488 Ashland (G1) with a Triple Crown-nominated filly. In 2021, eventual divisional champion Malathaat just got up in her sophomore premiere in the Ashland, on the way to victory in the Kentucky Oaks (G1). At Keeneland on Friday, 1.70-1 favorite Nest flew to an 8 1/4-length rout, reiterating her status as a prime Oaks contender.

The two fillies have further parallels. Both by Curlin and out of A.P. Indy mares, Malathaat and Nest concluded their two-year-old campaigns by winning the Demoiselle (G2) at Aqueduct. But there are a couple of differences. Malathaat captured the Tempted S. in her stakes debut, while Nest was a grinding third in the Tempted. Nest had the benefit of a tightener ahead of Keeneland, crushing the Feb. 12 Suncoast S. in stakes-record time at Tampa Bay Downs.

“She’s a filly that’s improved all the time,” Pletcher said. “She was able to win her debut going a mile and a sixteenth (at Belmont Park Sept. 25), which you don’t see many horses do. We’ve always felt like as she matured and the races got longer, she was going to get better. I really liked the way she’s been training since the Suncoast. She’s just kept getting better and better.”

Confidently handled by Irad Ortiz, who swept the last three races on the card including the Transylvania (G3), Nest was reserved in fourth through the opening half-mile. Her rival vying for favoritism, the 1.90-1 Interstatedaydream, was setting the pace through fractions of :24.24 and :48.82 on a track officially dubbed wet-fast (but muddy on the Keeneland feed). But the leader was hounded by Happy Soul.

Nest was on the march by the six-furlong mark in 1:13.25, drawing to within a half-length of Interstatedaydream despite racing widest of all. Happy Soul was about to bow out, while Awake at Midnyte added to the fray between foes.

So great was Nest’s momentum that she overhauled the trio to her inside while circumnavigating the far turn. The bay swung into the short stretch of the 1 1/16-mile affair already clear of the rest, widened her margin, and polished off 1 1/16 miles in 1:44.16.

Owned by Repole Stable, Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners, and Michael House, Nest garnered 100 points toward the Oaks. Her overall total of 120 puts her third on the leaderboard behind Kathleen O. and champion Echo Zulu.

“This filly is supposed to go a little longer,” Ortiz observed. “We know she wants to go a little longer, so I wasn’t afraid to move a little early. She was doing it easy, and she responded really well. She did great. Thanks to Todd and the owners for the opportunity to be on this nice filly.”

“Irad got her into a good, comfortable rhythm going down the backside, and we didn’t want anyone to get away from us with the short run to the finish line,” Pletcher recapped. I knew when he had her revved up she was doing it pretty easily. Then she kicked on down the lane and he wrapped up on her late. So it was everything we could have hoped for.”

Cocktail Moments closed stoutly to nip Interstatedaydream for second, adding 40 Oaks points for a tally of 52.

“I’m really pleased with her run,” trainer Kenny McPeek said of Cocktail Moments. “She’s a big strong filly, and we thought that she would run well.”

The connections of Interstatedaydream, who opened her Oaks account with 20 points, weren’t on the same page about tactics, according to the Keeneland quotes.

“She was super sharp,” jockey Florent Geroux said. “I was expecting her to take the lead. She ran great. She just got a touch tired on me in the last eighth of a mile. I think she had a good run. Hopefully with another race like today she can move on, and we are hoping she can win a graded stakes soon.”

“I was a little shocked that we were on the lead,” Interstatedaydream’s trainer, Brad Cox, said. “We were in a good spot, with comfortable fractions and well within herself. The race quickened, but she stayed on. Just no match for the winner. I will talk with (owner) Staton Flurry, but probably we will skip the (Kentucky) Oaks and shop around for a Grade 2 or 3 race. We will have her ready for the Oaks if there are some defections.”

Awake at Midnyte crossed the wire another 2 3/4 lengths back in fourth. Her effort was worth 10 points to up her total to 24, good for the 14th spot on the list. Sterling Silver, Happy Soul, Miss Mattie B, and the ever-trailing Heavenly Hellos rounded out the order of finish.

Nest sports a mark of 5-4-0-1, $623,050. The full sister to 2021 Santa Anita H. (G1) winner Idol is out of stakes scorer Marion Ravenwood, also the dam of multiple stakes-placed Dr Jack. Nest’s second dam is Grade 2 victress Andujar, by Quiet American.

Bred by Ashview Farm and Colts Neck Stables in Kentucky, Nest was purchased for $350,000 as a Keeneland September yearling. She could kick off a high-profile double for her breeders, who are also responsible for Mo Donegal, a fellow Pletcher trainee aiming to book his Kentucky Derby (G1) ticket in Saturday’s Wood Memorial (G2).