Updated October 4, 2018 - 7:09 pm
Step aside, Kim Jong Un. It’s my turn to be the “Rocket Man” as I break down the Sprint division with a month remaining until the Breeders’ Cup.
The picture for the $2 million Sprint, to be run Saturday, Nov. 3 — Day 2 of the two-day international racing extravaganza at Churchill Downs – is clearer than most at this point, with Imperial Hint having established himself as the solid favorite among the speed-burner brigade.
But as we saw last weekend, when Breeders’ Cup Classic heavyweight Diversify and Distaff leader Abel Tasman both finished off the board in their final tuneups for the big event, it’s too soon to be thinking about a Sprint single.
Nonetheless, Imperial Hint has put together an impressive 5-year-old season for little-known trainer Luis Carvajal and owner Raymond Mamone. The Florida-bred son of Imperialism has won four of five starts, including back-to-back victories in Grade 1 “Win and You’re In” races — last weekend’s Vosburgh Stakes at Belmont Park and the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga.
If you’re looking for a reason to ding the runner-up in last year’s Sprint, you can hang your hat on the fact that he’s 0-for-2 at Churchill Downs, most recently checking in sixth in the Churchill Downs Sprint Stakes in May. But both those defeats came in graded stakes races where he was asked to extend himself beyond his optimal 6-furlong distance, so be sure to factor that into your thinking if you intend to try to beat him.
We’ll find out more this week about who his main competitors figure to be after the $250,000 Phoenix Stakes (Grade 2) at Keeneland on Friday and the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (Grade 1) on Saturday.
Both races came up short numerically but deep on talent.
In the Phoenix, Promises Fulfilled, Whitmore and Limousine Liberal will square off against three lesser foes, while Ransom the Moon and Roy H are expected to stage a showdown at Santa Anita.
There also are still a few wild cards out there. The scary fast X Y Jet, winner of three of four races this year, will train up to the Sprint after being sidelined by a swollen hock. Horses like Firenze Fire and Mind Your Biscuits appear more likely to run in the Dirt Mile or even the Classic, but they could still call an audible and cut back to the Sprint.
We’ll know a lot more in just a few days.
#RJhorseracing featured races
The #RJhorseracing handicappers extended their stay in New York so they could tackle a couple challenging 2-year-old races at Belmont Park: The sixth race on Saturday’s card, a maiden special weight for 2-year-old fillies run at 6 furlongs on the turf, and the $500,000 Champagne Stakes (Grade 1) for 2-year-olds at a mile on the main track.
In the tricky maiden race with an overflow cast of lightly raced fillies and first-time starters, the handicapping crew likes 9-2 second choice on the morning line, Regal Glory, over Shannon’s Girl (7-2) and the Irish import Tiple (8-1).
I like Paradise Retained (5-1) if she draws in off the also-eligible list, over Shannon’s Girl, Regal Glory and Tiple.
In the Champagne, a major prep for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, the crowd ‘cappers are siding with the Chad Brown-trained Complexity, the 5-2 morning line favorite who romped in his debut, over Call Paul (4-1) and Aurelius Maximus (6-1).
I’ll take a shot with Trophy Chaser (10-1), who comes off two impressive efforts in Florida and might just be able to surprise the big boys in New York. I’ll use Aurelius Maximus and Complexity underneath.
You can get in on the fun and possibly win a not-so-valuable but one-of-a-kind prize next week by emailing me or following me on Twitter and letting me know you’d like to get involved.
Ellis Starr’s Santa Anita Sprint Championship analysis
Despite the class of both Roy H and Ransom the Moon, I am going to take a shot with Distinctive B, who may be all alone on an easy early lead in this short field. Horses often outrun their own ability when on an easy early lead. Distinctive B earned a career-best 115 Equibase Speed Figure in his most recent start on Aug. 26, when coasting to an easy 4 1/2-length win, so it is presumed he could have run even faster. Last year, Roy H earned a 117 figure when second to Ransom the Moon in the Bing Crosby Stakes before winning the Santa Anita Sprint Championship and that is the kind of effort Distinctive B may be capable of that could propel him to the upset win.
Ransom the Moon won the Bing Crosby Stakes for the second year in a row when last seen at the end of July. Flavien Prat rides him again, justifiably choosing him over Distinctive B. Following his Bing Crosby win last year, which earned him a career best 121 speed figure, Ransom the Moon regressed and only managed to finish fourth in this race. However, with a sparkling :47 half-mile workout coming into this year’s race, which was the best of 63 workouts on the day at the distance, he could return to his best form, which would be good enough to win.
Traveling half-way across the world often takes a lot out of a horse, so following his third place finish in the Golden Shaheen in Dubai in March it was no real surprise to see Roy H beaten in the Bing Crosby when finishing two lengths behind Ransom the Moon. Last year, Roy H reeled off three straight wins in the spring including the True North Stakes before finishing second in the Bing Crosby to Ransom the Moon. He then won this race and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in the fall. Roy H began his 2018 campaign in February with a strong win in the Palos Verdes Stakes with a 113 figure before traveling to Dubai and was not disgraced one bit when third behind Mind Your Biscuits. Rested four months, Roy H may have been a bit short of 100 percent fit in the Bing Crosby. Considering the 123 figure earned last year winning this race and the 128 figure winning the Breeders’ Cup Sprint are the best two figures earned by any horse in the field, if he can recapture that form, he will win.
Ellis Starr is the national racing analyst for Equibase. Visit the Equibase website for more on the race or to purchase handicapping products.