An early six to watch for the Breeders' Cup Sprint

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

September 2nd, 2015

With the official wagering partner of the Breeders' Cup World Championships and title sponsor of the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1), I'll be taking a weekly look at news and developments leading up to the six-furlong dash at Keeneland on October 31.

While Private Zone cemented his status as perhaps the top Sprint candidate with an authoritative display in last Saturday's Forego (G1) at Saratoga, Runhappy also turned a lot of heads with his dominating score in the King's Bishop (G1) against fellow three-year-olds. Runhappy's internal fractions were slightly quicker and he finished up faster, too, completing seven furlongs in 1:20.54 compared to Private Zone's 1:21.09.

Private Zone's connections still have the option of pointing for the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (G1) instead of the Sprint. It's an interesting one as he's fared quite well in one-mile races like the Cigar Mile (G1), Gulfstream Park H. (G2), and Metropolitan H. (G1). However, this year's Dirt Mile will be run around two turns, which can be a completely different ball game compared to a one-turn mile.

One factor that might convince his connections to try the longer race is that he's run 10th and third in the last two editions of the Sprint. Private Zone's early zip has generally been more effective in races at seven furlongs and a mile, and at six furlongs he sometimes finds himself in a pace-pressing position. That was the case in last year's Vosburgh (G1), where he had to dig deep to prevail by a neck after a stretch-long duel.

Trainer Jorge Navarro said in the immediate aftermath of the Forego that he'd like to train Private Zone up to the Breeders' Cup, but seemed to backtrack slightly a day or two later when suggesting he might race one more time before. Private Zone is in the rare position of possibly becoming the first horse ever to win the prestigious Vosburgh at Belmont for a third time, so it will interesting to see if his connections take a stab at history on September 26.

The better bet might be him training up to the Sprint and then pursuing a repeat victory in the Cigar Mile at Aqueduct on Thanksgiving weekend.

Runhappy's stakes debut in the King's Bishop, which came on the heels of allowance wins at Indiana Grand and Ellis Park, could not have been more impressive. His connections have revealed they will send him back to Kentucky where he'll make his final Sprint prep in the course-and-distance Phoenix (G3) on October 2.

The Vosburgh and Phoenix both have the potential of being exciting previews in their own right. If Private Zone does take a shot in the Vosburgh, he'll likely face Rock Fall, who rose rapidly in the Sprint ranks this summer with back-to-back wins in the True North (G2) and Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. (G1) for trainer Todd Pletcher. The once-beaten colt had to work a bit in the latter to hold off Saratoga-loving The Big Beast by a nose, but could assert himself more as he makes this final two-race push toward the championship.

Meanwhile, the Phoenix is likely to feature the Illinois-bred gelding Work All Week, last year's Sprint winner and divisional champion. Hero of the Phoenix last term, Work All Week saw his undefeated dirt record snapped in the Aristides (G3) at Churchill Downs in his 2015 bow. After suffering another reversal in the Smile Sprint (G2) down at Gulfstream, he pounded seven rivals by eight lengths in the $100,000 Sen. Robert C. Byrd Memorial at Mountaineer on August 1 in his most recent start. His campaign has not been particularly ambitious, but it's too soon to count him out.

In no particular order, my "Six for the Sprint" list of top contenders includes the aforementioned Private Zone, Rock Fall, Runhappy, and Work All Week. I'll also throw in a pair of West Coast prospects -- Masochistic and Wild Dude.

Masochistic, winner of the Triple Bend (G1) and Kona Gold (G2) earlier in the year, was passed late by Wild Dude in the July 26 Bing Crosby (G1) at Del Mar and might have a re-match with that one in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (G1).

Wild Dude, subsequently second behind lone speed Appealing Tale in the Pat O'Brien (G2), has danced most of the Southern California sprint dances this season. He's not entering this final stretch to the Breeders' Cup as the freshest horse, but he's the certainly the type that could benefit from a potential pace meltdown at Keeneland.