Just 20 days after winning his career debut, 3-year-old Nadal made a triumphant return Feb. 9 with a strong victory in the $200,500 Grade 2 San Vicente Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
Ridden by Joel Rosario, 3-10 favorite Nadal broke well from the fourth post position and showed off his early speed, dueling between frontrunners Ginobili and 93.70-1 shot Party Town before edging past Party Town and settling in second on the rail. Ginobili, who took the lead four-wide from the break, set fast fractions of :21.81 and :44.09 through the half-mile pressed all the while by Nadal, who raced just behind the leader and then moved up to engage him at the top of the stretch.
Urged forward by Rosario, Nadal got his head in front in midstretch and then dug deeper as the two stormed toward the wire. Ginobili fought hard to the end, but Nadal prevailed by three quarters of a length in a final time of 1:22.59 for seven furlongs.
"He broke sharp and he handled the pressure from the outside," said Rosario. "I was never worried about it. My horse was moving very well and I was confident because I could feel I had a lot of horse under me. He was very impressive. He ran very fast today and he runs like he'll like two turns – but you never know until they do it."
Ginobili held for second, 1 ¼ lengths ahead of Fast Enough in third. Storm the Court, 2019's champion 2-year-old male and winner of last fall’s TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, never fired and finished fourth in his first start as a 3-year-old.
Nadal had first turned heads with a sharp 3 ¾-length win in a 6 ½-furlong maiden at Santa Anita on Dec. 19.
"Today, I told Joel, don't get cute, just go. We can rate him some other day," said Bob Baffert, who trains Nadal on behalf of George Bolton, Arthur Hoyeau, Barry Lipman, and Mark Mathiesen. "They took it to him, but if we're going to get beat, (we) get beat. I trained him light for this, so this is my serious work ...
“I thought he was going to get beat. He got to gut it out today, so he's got a good foundation now. This should set him up pretty good and I think we'll go to the Rebel (Stakes March 14 at Oaklawn Park)."
The San Vicente is not part of the Road to the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve qualifying points series. The $1 million Rebel Stakes, run at 1 1/16 miles, offers Derby points to the top four finishers on a 50-20-10-5 scale.
Bred in Kentucky by Sierra Farm, Nadal is the second foal out of the Pulpit mare Ascending Angel. The son of Blame was purchased by bloodstock agent Kerri Radcliffe for $700,000 at the Fasig-Tipton Florida select sale of 2-year-olds in training.
"I actually found out about Nadal through Kerri Radcliffe who bought the colt for us at the Fasig-Tipton March sale a year ago," said owner George Bolton. "I think she bought a great horse for us and we hope Nadal is as proud of us as we are extremely proud of him today. It is a huge step up and when you go to the paddock and you're 1-9 (odds), you are thinking of all the downside in the world. There were some nice looking horses in the paddock, (Ginobili) looked fast and was fast. He really had to go the whole way and never got a breather. Going further (in distance) should be fun for Nadal.
"This horse looks like it could be a special horse. You just want him to be happy and hold together. He will be on the road now. He'll be on different surfaces and he's going to go a different distance yet again, so he will go maybe go to the Rebel. I'm proud we got that chance. I'm extremely happy about everything that has happened here."
Nadal has earned $153,000 from his first two starts.