He was one of the most exciting horses in the first half of 2020, and a bona fide contender for the Kentucky Derby thanks to an impressive record he racked up in a matter of months. The Derby eluded him, but this son of Blame made an impression during his brief time at the races.
Debuting a couple of weeks into the 2020 season, Nadal's first assignment was a six and one-half furlong matchup with six rivals at Santa Anita. He made quick work of the opposition, getting the lead early before graduating after starting from the rail. That is never an easy task for a first-time starter.
The connections liked what they saw that day, for Nadal got a major hike in class afterward. Back on Santa Anita's main track after the first win, Nadal was part of the field for the Grade II San Vicente Stakes. Now going seven-eighths of a mile and wearing blinkers, Nadal was again calm, cool and collected like he had been three weeks prior. Getting in early contention before battling for the lead around the far turn, Nadal held Ginobili at bay in the stretch to win the Kentucky Derby prep race that had some quick fractions (as had the first outing).
With a graded stakes win in just his second start, it was clear that the horse named for tennis champion Rafael Nadal had talent.
Now two-for-two, trainer Bob Baffert sent Nadal to Oaklawn Park for his next start, a move that had been good to the trainer five years earlier with American Pharoah. In fact, Nadal's schedule in Arkansas matched that of the 2015 Triple Crown champion. First came the Grade II Rebel at a mile and one-sixteenth. The blinkers were off, but Joel Rosario was back on again following the San Vicente (Jose Diaz, Jr. rode Nadal in the debut), and Nadal drew the rail once more. But there was a twist with the Rebel: the Oaklawn track was rated sloppy, which was uncharted territory for the bay colt.
Bet down to odds-on, handicappers were not fazed by the lack of experience Nadal had over an off track. And for that matter, neither was Nadal. The Rebel was a repeat of the San Vicente in the sense that Nadal battled up front (ironically, he took on a son of American Pharoah named American Theorem) before taking the lead for good. Taking an inside path like he did in the San Vicente, Nadal aced his first test in the slop while gaining a narrow victory. But his last two starts gave him some battle testing, which is always a plus for the Kentucky Derby and future horse races.
Nadal went from the Rebel to the Arkansas Derby, his Grade I debut. Competing in the second division of the contest, Nadal was back on a fast track for the nine furlong excursion. Employing a stalking trip behind leader Wells Bayou for much of the way, Nadal and Rosario assumed command before reaching the top of the stretch. They were untouchable from that point on as Nadal made it four straight wins.
That put him in the conversation of Kentucky Derby contenders, but a condylar fracture following a workout led to Nadal being retired later that spring. He had successful surgery for it, and has since started his stallion career in Japan.
His career was very brief, but everyone who saw Nadal perform witnessed a horse with immense talent, a drive to win, and plenty of toughness, just like his namesake.
Nadal's injury and surgery: Ehalt, Bob and King, Byron. "Unbeaten Nadal Retired with Condylar Fracture." Bloodhorse.com, May 28, 2020. https://www.bloodhorse.com/horse-racing/articles/241451/unbeaten-nadal-retired-with-condylar-fracture