Key players appear to be set
In a race where a couple of fringe players generally come out of the woodwork at the last moment, the nucleus for this year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint field is now set. A core group that is fast, talented, and well matched is led by defending Sprint winner Drefong.
There were seven Breeders’ Cup Challenge races for the Sprint decided over the past three months, each won by a different horse.
Imperial Hint was the first to earn a fees-paid berth into the race by virtue of his victory July 2 in the Smile Sprint at Gulfstream Park. He was followed by Mind Your Biscuits (Belmont Sprint Championship); Ransom the Moon (Bing Crosby); Drefong (Forego); Takaful (Vosburgh); Whitmore (Phoenix); and Roy H (Santa Anita Sprint Championship).
As is always the case, there will be no lack of early speed in this year’s edition of the Sprint. Drefong led throughout to win the event a year ago at Santa Anita and used a similar modus operandi to capture the seven-furlong Forego. El Deal went wire to wire en route to his sensational eight-length triumph in the Grade 1 Vanderbilt and also led until late stretch before being caught in the final strides by pace-stalking Takaful in the Vosburgh. Imperial Hint also has abundant speed, having been clear on the lead in early stretch in all five races during a winning streak that dates back to last December.
Takaful is the only 3-yearold currently listed among the elite of the Sprint division, his stock rising steadily, and fairly rapidly, after trainer Kiaran McLaughlin decided one turn, not two, would be his forte following a disappointing performance last winter in the Fountain of Youth.
Both Whitmore and Roy H earned their all-expenses-paid berth to the Sprint last weekend. Whitmore ran down a dead game Awesome Banner in the closing strides to win the Phoenix at Keeneland, while Roy H edged clear late from longshot Mr. Hinx to register a popular decision in the Santa Anita Sprint for his fourth win in five starts this season. Drefong, Mind Your Biscuits, and Imperial Hint will enter the Breeders’ Cup off layoffs ranging from 61-70 days. Mind Your Biscuits and Imperial Hint indicated their sharpness earlier this week, each posting 46-and-change clockings for their half-mile works, which took place over their respective home tracks at Belmont Park and Parx Racing.
The connections of both Awesome Banner and Stallwalkin, Dude, the latter third in the Vosburgh, remain noncommittal at this time on their status for the Sprint.
Trainer Ken Decker said he has received no indication from owner Fred Brei about which direction he’s leaning with Phoenix runner-up Awesome Banner regarding the Breeders’ Cup.
“It’s Fred’s decision, and he hasn’t made one at this point,” Decker said. “The horse came out of the race well, he’s back at Laurel, and I’ll keep him on schedule as if we’re going to go. It’s just starting to sink in now how frustrating that loss was, both from the standpoint of the race itself and the fact it was a Win and You’re In for the Sprint. He ran too good a race to lose.”