Ralph Nicks is back. The Saratoga veteran - as assistant for Bill Mott and on his own - decided to stay in Florida last summer. The decision, made out of necessity, turned into the best decision Nicks has made, perhaps, in his career.
By staying in Florida year round, Nicks has bolstered his stable to 55 horses at Gulfstream Park and 12 at Saratoga this summer. Carl Allsop runs his stable in Florida and Heather Smullen helps run the Saratoga division.
Wednesday morning, Nicks balanced 12 horses and two owners - Paul Saylor and Mandy Pope and The Special's Sean Clancy. The trainer was happy to do it.
"It's more encouraging this year. It's not the sole thing that I'm trying to make my living with, I have my home base. With the new clients I've attracted, I'm getting better horses than I did when I was last here," Nicks said. "They're trying to do the right things down there, the money's good for year-round racing and it's a great facility. It was the first year in 31 years that I didn't relocate at some point during the year. It felt weird when everybody first started to leave but it didn't take long to settle in."
Good horses will do that for you.
Nicks won 19 races in 2013, while moving from Florida to New York. In 2014, he won 35 races. This year, he's won 26 from 166 starts. His horses have earned $935,205, closing in on last year's tally of just over $1 million.
"I had been here, I had won races here before, it's no fun when you can't compete. Hopefully we can this year," Nicks said when asked what it was like to miss last year's meet. "If I stayed in New York, I was going to be out of business. I was confident training horses but I just wasn't attracting any. I'm not the clubhouse guy, not the marketer. The owners I have right now, the interaction is fun. They're team players. I'm attracting people who are loyal to the game."
Hollywood Idol: "By Smart Strike, we put him on the turf for the first time and his form has been much better. He's a nice, hard-trying horse. Possible, we might run him in the Lure on the 8th (of August)."
Sweet Basil: "She'll run in the Shine Again Wednesday, open fillies. She was fourth in the Princess Rooney, she won three out of four at Gulfstream."
Cult Classic: "Quality Road filly that won very impressively last year and was second off the layoff. She'll run in an allowance race and hopefully she'll be stakes quality later."
Tiz A Pleasure: "Tiznow 2-year-old of Mandy's (and a Fasig-Tipton yearling purchase here last summer). End of the meet, could be the fall of the year. I'm not going to press too much. Nice colt."
Tap To It: "Tapit filly, (unraced) 2-year-old, she'll probably run in the middle of the meet."
Ultimate Shopper: "We tried to get Grade 2 black type in the Honorable Miss. That didn't work."
Crown D'Oro: "She broke her maiden at Gulfstream in her last start, first time turf. She'll run on the 7th, a other than."
Avast Matey: "Birdstone of Paul Saylor's, was beaten a head first start, just got caught at 45-1. I'm not a big gambler but I did bet 10 across because P. J. (Campo) was standing beside me and said, 'What are they doing, letting your first 2-year-old go off at 40-1?' I said, 'That colt can't be 40-1.' That head was a $20,000 difference to my assistant."
Perillone: "Gio Ponti 2-year-old of Paul's, breezed a quarter, galloped out three-eighths in :38 on Wednesday. Might be ready towards the end of the meet. He'll be on the bubble. You'd think he'd be grass, but he breezed well on the dirt."
Kandoo: "This is the Kantharos who ran the Lasix-free race at Gulfstream. She'll run in the Adirondack. I'm not opposed to having the non-Lasix races, as long as it's even."
Dancie: "She won her debut at Gulfstream and will go to the Adirondack. She broke on the lead and drew off, very smart. Numbers-wise, Kandoo ran faster. They're both laid back, walked in the paddock, just stood there. She ran into a tree when she was a foal, I'm not sure how she lived, but she's got some head on her."
Iroquois Girl: "Two-time winner last year, she's been off a year. Two-other-than, 5 ½-furlong turf. She was Mr. (James) Spence's but he's out of the game. I own her now. She'll run on the 5th. She's fast, she went 55 and 3 last year."