2019 Breeders' Cup Sprint Predictions and Expert Betting Picks
The Breeders' Cup Sprint often marks a personal milestone for me on the Saturday Breeders' Cup schedule. It's the point at which I start drinking. The race drives me to it because it is so unpredictable and tough to deal with. It's not always that the results are crazy and long shots dominate - though that can be true at times. It's more that the race is short, the fields typically very talented, and the margin for error so small that too many things can happen. When the Sprint occurs at Santa Anita, things really get crazy. Over the last 20 years, 12 winners of the Sprint have gone off at 5.2-1 or less. But in the seven races at Santa Anita over that time, there were four horses that paid $29.40 or more to win, and the average win odds have been 12.9-1 - even with Secret Circle winning as favorite at less than 5/2 in 2013. This race is always challenging, but particularly so when it is here.
While the outcome can often seem like a mystery, you can rely on some fairly strong trends to help guide you towards a winner. In the last 20 years, 14 winners have won their last prep race, and every horse except Midnight Lute in 2008 has finished in the top three last time out. The last 20 winners have made 57 starts between June and October of their championship year. In those races, they have had 33 wins, finished second 16 times, and third four times. That means they have been on the board 53 of 57 times. So, recent past form is a strong indication of readiness here. Of the 20 winners, 18 have won graded stakes, and 10 have won Grade 1 races. This isn't a spot for breakout performances.
There is another Santa Anita specific trend here that is very interesting - though the sample size is small. In the last 20 years, we have seen six three-year-old winners of this race. The race has been run five times on a dirt surface at Santa Anita over that time, and three of them have been won by three-year-olds. So, three-year-olds have won 30 percent of Sprints in the last 20 years, but 60 percent at this track.
The field this year includes just 10 horses, though the odds would suggest that four horses tower over the rest. Here are the highlights of the field with morning line odds:
Mitole (9/5): This four-year-old is leaving the East Coast for the first time. But he has won three Grade 1 races in his last four starts, and he has five wins and a third in six starts this year. He's the real deal. His talent is obvious, but I am not convinced that he is strong enough to justify the price gap between him and the rest of the field. I respect him but will likely respectfully look to beat him.
Catalina Cruiser (4/1): This five-year-old has lost only once in eight career starts, but that came last year on Breeders' Cup weekend in the Mile. He's a California-based horse who won his first two races at Santa Anita, so he suits the course. And he's perhaps the fastest pure horse in the race. But this feels like more of a mile horse than a pure sprinter to me, and I don't love this spot.
Shancelot (4/1): This three-year-old has made just five career starts, but the first three were wins, and he was third and second in the last two. The most recent was a game second here at Santa Anita, where he led most of the way and fought hard before giving in to Omaha Beach at the wire. He's fast enough, he likes the track, and he is in solid form. He's a contender, though he'd have to go off at a better price than this one to represent any value.
Imperial Hint (4/1): This six-year-old is no stranger to this race - he was second in 2017 and third last year. He was third this spring in the Golden Shaheen on the Dubai World Cup undercard. Since returning, he has run just twice, posting wins at both Saratoga and Belmont in Grade 1 events. In the first of those events, the Vanderbilt at Saratoga, he beat Mitole in dominant fashion, so we know he is good enough to win this race. The depth of this race, and the puzzle that causes, makes me want to drink now - never mind when this race starts.
Firenze Fire (12/1): Derby fans will remember that this colt was way, way up the track when Justify won the first leg of his Triple Crown last year. He was turned into a sprinter after that race, but this year he has only looked okay. He does not have a win in his last four Grade 1 starts and doesn't feel quite good enough.
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