Key play­ers ap­pear to be set

Daily Racing Form National Digital Edition - - News - By Mike Welsch Fol­low Mike Welsch on Twit­ter @DRFWelsch

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.”

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