In what could be the highlight event of this year’s entire Breeders’ Cup, the Sprint attracted a total of 11 pre-entries, including several horses who could end up stealing the show. The race will be contested at Santa Anita Park on Saturday, November 2, going 6 furlongs over the main track for a purse of $2,000,000.
Leading the way is the Steve Asmussen-trained Mitole, who has won five of six starts this season. Ranked as the country’s number-one sprinter, he is also one of the three leading candidates for Horse of the Year. He started his 4-year-old campaign with a pair of victories at Oaklawn Park before he picked up his first Grade 1 victory in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1). After that, he won what might be the best overall race this season when he took home the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Met Mile (G1) at Belmont Park. After a shocking loss in the Vanderbilt Stakes (G1) at Saratoga, he rebounded last time out, winning the Forego Stakes (G1) by 3 lengths in impressive fashion. Overall, he has won nine of 13 starts and has never finished off the board.
As good as Mitole has been this year, it is important to note that fellow entrant Imperial Hint was the one who beat him in the Vanderbilt Stakes (G1). In fact, he crushed him by over 7 lengths while setting a Saratoga track record for his first victory of the season. Prior to that, he was a solid third in the Dubai Golden Shaheen Stakes (G1). Most recently, he won the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Vosburgh Stakes (G1) at Belmont Park with a dramatic nose victory over Firenze Fire, who passed Imperial Hint in the stretch before the winner fought back along the inside. Imperial Hint is also no stranger to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, having finished third last season at Churchill Downs and second in 2017 at Del Mar.
A slightly surprising pre-entry into this race is Catalina Cruiser, who was expected to go to the Big Ass Fans Dirt Mile. Instead, it looks like the Sprint is his first preference. Overall, he has won seven of his eight starts, but his lone loss was a bad one in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, where he finished off the board. Since that effort, he has won three times this year, with two of those coming in one-turn races. He kicked off his season with a hard-fought victory in the True North Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park before he picked up a pair of wins at Del Mar in the San Diego Handicap (G2) and the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Pat O’Brien Stakes (G2).
When talking about the Sprint, speed is usually the name of the game. From that standpoint, the Jorge Navarro-trained Shancelot is tremendously fast out of the gate. He put that on full display at Saratoga three races back, winning the Amsterdam Stakes (G2) in one of the most impressive performances that we’ve seen in many years. His final margin of victory was 12 1/2 lengths as he flew home to win at odds of 6/5. However, he failed to reproduce that effort in his subsequent two starts, finishing third in the H. Allen Jerkens Stakes (G1) and second in the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (G1). Both times, he looked to have it won when turning for home, only to be caught in the final stages.
One horse who hasn’t had problems finishing races in the late stages is Engage, who has won both starts since switching to the Steve Asmussen barn. After winning the Bensalem Stakes at Parx, Asmussen shipped Engage to Keeneland for the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes (G2) for his next start. He made that race a winning one, flying home late to get up for a ½-length triumph. In the past under Chad Brown, Engage had trouble finishing off races, having to settle for second on several occasions. Those efforts seem to be behind him now as he heads into the biggest race of his career.
Firenze Fire had to settle for second last time out in the Vosburgh, even though he took the lead in mid-stretch. He was unable to hold off Imperial Hint, though, losing by a nose. He was also second in the Forego two starts back, losing to the mighty Mitole. Last year, Firenze Fire was fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile, so he’ll cut back in distance this year in search of a better finish. After his Vosburgh performance while going this distance, it’s hard to argue with the strategy.
Another horse with Breeders’ Cup experience is Whitmore, who will run in the Sprint for the third straight season. His first attempt at Del Mar in 2017 did not go well, as he finished eighth, but he was a solid second last year at Churchill Downs. He opened 2019 by winning Oaklawn Park’s Hot Springs Stakes for the third straight year, while last time out, he nearly won the Phoenix, finishing second by a 1/2-length. He will enter this year’s running of the Sprint fresh, making his second start off of a layoff.
The other pre-entries include Diamond Oops, Hog Creek Hustle, Landeskog, and Matera Sky.