March 27, 2023

Loaded TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint has look of instant classic

Drefong was all alone at the wire of the 2016 Sprint (Benoit Photos)

The preps are done, the field is forming yet fluid, and a case can be made that the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) will be one of the most intriguing races held the weekend of November 3-4 at Del Mar.

There were just seven starters in last year’s Sprint held at Santa Anita. That number could be exceeded this time simply by those with legitimate claims to an Eclipse Award title as male sprinter of the year, and possibly a few others as well.

Some on this list of leading candidates are admittedly longer shots than others and two or three figure to garner much of the wagering support, but all bring something to the table.

Drefong: The defending Breeders’ Cup and Eclipse titlist is the the horse to beat despite having only two starts beforehand. That is, if you want to count the Bing Crosby (G1) as a legitimate start as Drefong dumped jockey Mike Smith passing the gap soon after the break and proceeded to run the entire six furlongs riderless. A four-length romp in the Forego (G1) showed he was back to his old self, and keep in mind Bob Baffert once trained Midnight Lute to a second consecutive Sprint victory off one (below par) prep.

El Deal: Very much a different animal since joining the Jorge Navarro barn earlier this year, his eight-length romp in the Alfred G. Vanderbilt (G1) earned him a 110 BRIS Speed Rating. Didn’t have quite the same pizzazz setting a faster pace in the Vosburgh (G1), and perhaps was regressing some off that Saratoga blowout. Long-time backers will get one of the biggest prices of his career at Del Mar.

Imperial Hint: Undefeated in four starts this year, but hasn’t really been tested against high-quality competition. That said, he could be absolutely any kind as his wins throughout the season have been fairly comfortable, including a virtual afternoon work in the Donald LeVine Memorial at Parx last time (111 BRIS rating). Appears to have the right stalk-and-pounce style that could prove ideal.

Mind Your Biscuits: Third in last year’s Sprint and subsequently the winner of the Malibu (G1), Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1), and Belmont Sprint Championship (G3), he’s sure to fly under the radar a bit after a no-show in the Forego, where he finished eight lengths sixth to Drefong. Much better than that and a one of several potential beneficiaries of a hot pace.

Ransom the Moon: Won the Bing Crosby after a loose Drefong forced a couple major threats very wide entering the stretch. His form prior to that perfect trip was legitimate, but his stock fell a bit this past weekend when a dull fourth with no apparent mishap in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1).

Roy H: Hindered by Drefong in the aforementioned Bing Crosby, he rebounded nicely in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (109 BRIS rating), backing up an earlier, stakes-debut win in the True North (G2) (111 BRIS rating). Couldn’t be going any better at the moment and the probable second choice to Drefong in the wagering at this writing.

Takaful: The only three-year-old on this list has been super impressive in all three starts under seven furlongs. Season relaunch came in an N1X allowance at Saratoga, which he won by more than five lengths (114 BRIS rating), and after a commendable second to Practical Joke in the seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens (G1), he wore down El Deal to win the Vosburgh by a length. If not this year, he’s definitely one to fear a year from now at Churchill.

Whitmore: Earned a lot of pub the first half of the season, and is now eight-for-10 around one turn following a game win in last week’s Phoenix (G2) at Keeneland. Kudos to him for racing wide throughout and pulling out a victory after two disappointing efforts at Belmont and Laurel. However, the horses he narrowly beat there aren’t among the top contenders here, and his recent ratings have very much lagged behind what others have earned of late. As is the case with El Deal, long-time supporters are sure to love the market price.