2006 Breeders' Cup Preview: Sprint
by Trevor Whenham - 10/30/2006
The Sprint is a cruel race. It will take just more than a minute to run on Breeders' Cup day, and in that short time you could see your dreams of riches crash to the ground. Overall, the favorites have won about 40 percent of the races in the 22-year history of the Breeders' Cup, which is well above what we see on regular race days, but only five favorites have won the sprint, a 23 percent rate. The winner of this race often seems to come from nowhere - five winners in the last 10 years have gone off at 10/1 or better. The most mystifying result recently was in 2003 when Cajun Beat won at 23/1 and topped a $380 exacta.
When you are watching the Sprint, you have to keep in mind that Churchill Downs is a little different than most tracks, or you will be convinced that the pace is way too fast. Because of how the track is set up, the time in six-furlong races doesn't actually start until the horses are 140 feet out of the gate. That means that by the time the clock is running the horses are up to full speed. The first quarter will likely be noticeably faster than what you would expect because of that. It also means that the race is actually about 6-1/4 furlongs, so front-runners have to hold on longer, and closers have more room to move.
Despite the fear of favorites in this race, this year's likely favorite is one that needs serious consideration. Henny Hughes is a 3-year-old making his second Breeders' Cup appearance after a second in last year's Juvenile to Stevie Wonderboy. After that race he returned to Dubai, where his owner, Sheik Rashid, lives, for the winter. Since returning stateside and shortening up to sprint distances, the horse has been a monster. He won on July 1 at Monmouth by 10 lengths under a hand ride, and was just as dominant in wins at Saratoga and Belmont.
Henny Hughes seems to like to settle just off the pace before moving to the lead on the final turn and pulling away when asked. That style clearly works very well for him, but he has put it into action against smaller fields than the 14 he will likely face at Churchill Downs. Much, then, will depend both on the post position he draws and the traffic he encounters in the race. It seems likely, however, that if he gets a smooth trip he is the horse to beat. It makes me just a bit nervous that that was exactly the same thought I had about another three-year-old who was the favorite against older horses in the Sprint last year. Lost in the Fog faded in the stretch and ended up a disappointing seventh.
The biggest threat to the favorite, on paper at least, is west coast invader Bordonaro. The five-year-old has won nine of his last 11 races, all over sprint distances, and all in California. Unlike Henny Hughes, Bordonaro is pure speed - he's happiest when he gets the lead early, and he usually manages to stay there. He comes into the race off of four weeks of rest, which is less than he normally gets. His connections must feel he is ready for a big run, though, because they had to pay to supplement him into this field.
Dubai Escapade will be challenging Bordonaro for the lead, and you will get a much better price on this horse than you will on the Californian. She's a filly, but that doesn't need to scare you off - three female horses have won the Sprint, and her sire, Awesome Again won the Classic in 1998, so she certainly isn't outclassed. She hasn't raced since Aug. 27, but what a race that was. She blew the field of the Ballerina at Saratoga away, winning by eight lengths and posting a Beyer rating of 115, which is higher than Henny Hughes has posted.
Chasing both the speed at the front and the stalkers will be Siren Lure, another California horse who is likely to go off as the third favorite. He has five wins in six starts this year, and all of them have been as a result of explosive moves launched from way off the pace. If he can stay clear of traffic and find room to move, then the long stretch at Churchill could set up well for him. The concern with him is that the distance is about a furlong too short for him.
Pomeroy is a horse that will likely get some attention. He has won three graded stakes since August of 2004, and all of them have been at Saratoga. Unfortunately for him, this year's Breeders' Cup isn't at Saratoga. He could very well find a spot on the bottom of the exotics, but I don't see how he finds the top.
Too Much Bling, a Bob Baffert trained three-year-old, is the other horse that catches my eye. He has four firsts and a second this year, though three of those races were at 7 furlongs. He's generally a stalker, but he has won from the lead if he has found himself there. He's an intriguing entry, though I'd be happier if he wasn't coming in off a three-month layoff.
Looking for a longshot? There are going to be several to choose from, as the bottom of this field is fairly weak. One horse that should go off above 20/1 and is somewhat interesting is Thor's Echo. He ran second to Bordonaro last time out, but it was an impressive effort. He was comfortably in second behind the winner at every tick, and he posted a very solid 116 Beyer.