January 27, 2021

Turf Sprint shaping up as one of the highlights of 2020 Breeders’ Cup

Leinster
Leinster wins the Woodford at Keeneland (Coady Photography)

It’s not among the original eight Breeders’ Cup events, is more or less a niche race that caters to a certain type of specialist among Thoroughbred competitors, and hardly ever has any Eclipse Award implications. Nonetheless, the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1) has the potential to be one of the most fascinating of the Breeders’ Cup events at Keeneland on the afternoon of Nov. 7.

Since its founding in 2008, the Turf Sprint has generally been the domain of course-and-distance specialists at whichever track the Breeders’ Cup happens to be held. While that perhaps tends to limit the number of true win contenders among a normally full gate of aspirants, Keeneland’s strong grass sprint stakes program has yield a number of live contenders for this year’s Turf Sprint.

Although it conducts only short meets in April and October (in non-pandemic years, that is), Keeneland’s turf sprints are typically powerhouse affairs within the division.

The primary contenders for this year’s Turf Sprint have won and/or competed in the Shakertown (G2) and Woodford (G2) for the boys, or the Franklin County (G3) and Giant’s Causeway for the fillies and mares.

Although an ineffective seventh in the 2019 Turf Sprint at the unfamiliar Santa Anita, Leinster will bring a 3-for-4 record over the Keeneland sod into the Turf Sprint. That includes scores in this year’s Shakertown and Woodford, so a season sweep is possible for the Rusty Arnold trainee.

Imprimis
Imprimis wins the RUNHAPPY Turf Sprint at Kentucky Downs (Coady Photography)

Imprimis was a non-threatening sixth in the Turf Sprint a year ago, but also enters on a two-race win streak with recent graded scores at Saratoga and Kentucky Downs. He was up in time to capture the 2019 Shakertown, so has sufficient course-and-distance experience.

What used to make the main-track Sprint (G1) so intriguing in the Breeders’ Cup’s early years was it’s routine mix of male and female contenders. However, that position was abdicated when the Filly and Mare Sprint (G1) was founded in 2007. Thankfully, the Turf Sprint has not been split and has kept the tradition and spirit of open competition alive, with Mizdirection (2012-13) and Belvoir Bay (2019) scoring for the ladies.

On the distaff side for the Turf Sprint we’ll have Got Stormy, who’s successfully remodeled herself this season from a top miler into a leading contender for this race following a heart-stopping close in the Oct. 9 Franklin County. A potentially overlooked contender is 2019 Franklin County heroine Oleksandra, who’s only been out twice this year, the latest being a victory against males in the Jaipur (G1) at Belmont in June.

Although established Keeneland performers likely have the edge, we can’t discount the possibility of a new-in-town horse pulling off an upset. Big Runnuer has developed into one of Southern California’s top turf dashers, while fellow Californian Bombard and the Chad Brown-trained Front Run the Fed both narrowly missed to Imprimis last time at Kentucky Downs.

At this writing it’s hard to envision any favorite in this race starting at less than 5-2 or 3-1, so this edition of the Turf Sprint has the potential makings of a terrific betting affair. We’ll soon be just 5 1/2 furlongs away from determining who is the true king or queen around one turn of the Keeneland turf.