Robert LaPenta's Nicky the Vest lived up to his even-money favoritism in the $100,000 Gander Stakes for New York-bred 3-year-olds Feb. 14 at Aqueduct Racetrack, romping to an 11 3/4-length win in his stakes debut. The Runhappy colt won his first start Dec. 18 in a one-turn mile at the Big A, and trainer Jonathan Thomas saw him replicate that effort at the same track and distance Sunday as he cruised in the stretch under meet-leading rider Kendrick Carmouche. He became the first black-type winner for his sire, who stands at Claiborne Farm.Nicky the Vest, b, 3/c Runhappy — Tazarine, by Cat Thief Owner: LaPenta, Robert, V. Breeder: Highclere (NY) Trainer: Jonathan Thomas Jockey: Kendrick Carmouche Information provided by Equibase at time of entry. Pedigree Notes Runhappy stands at Claiborne Farm for $10,000 (2021). Sale History OBSOCT2019 • $110,000 • Consignor: Stuart Morris, agent for Highclere • Buyer: Insignia Bloodstock. Thomas said Nicky the Vest could possibly target the March 6 Gotham Stakes (G3) once again over the same course and distance. The Gotham offers points on a 50-20-10-5 scale toward a spot in the May 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (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. 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 (of New York-bred company), he's run well here on this track so it stands to reason we would stay here." Nicky the Vest broke sharply from post 5 and was in second behind pacesetter Lobsta, who ran the opening quarter-mile in :23.61 and the half in :47.17 on the fast main track. Carmouche urged Nicky the Vest outside of Lobsta to take command with three-quarters in 1:12.33. The bay colt pressed on and completed the distance in a final time of 1:37.94 while geared down in the final 70 yards. He returned $4.30 on a $2 win wager. "He broke real sharp, had me in a good spot, and the track has been good with forward positioning," said Carmouche. "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. I figured once I asked him, he should respond and he got me to the winner's circle." Nicky the Vest was bred in New York by Highclere out of the Cat Thief mare Tazarine and is a half brother to black-type placed Moms Choice. He was purchased by Insignia Bloodstock for $110,000 from Stuart Morris' consignment to the 2019 Ocala Breeders' Sales October Yearling Sale. The Gander, his second win in as many starts, increased his earnings to $93,500. "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. 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." Lobsta finished second a half-length in front of Perfect Munnings. Dancing Buck, Horn of Plenty, Uno, and Re Created completed the order of finish. Video: Gander S. (BT) .
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