An Introduction to the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint

Profile Picture: J. Keeler Johnson

October 16th, 2018

A new Breeders’ Cup race is set to debut this year at Churchill Downs, and while it might not be the type of championship race you’d typically expect from the Breeders’ Cup, there’s no doubt that it will offer bettors an intriguing handicapping challenge with the possibility for big payoffs.

The race in question is the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, a 5 ½-furlong grass race somewhat reminiscent of the short-lived Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Sprint. The latter race, inaugurated in 2011, did produce two future winners of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (Secret Circle and Trinniberg), but it was cancelled after just two editions amidst concerns about field size and the possibility that it was detracting from the quality of the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile.

Those factors certainly shouldn’t be issues with the Juvenile Turf Sprint, considering that the two existing Breeders' Cup turf races for two-year-old (the Juvenile Turf and the Juvenile Fillies Turf) almost always attract oversubscribed fields. The presence of the new Juvenile Turf Sprint will provide an alternative option to speedier runners and could also attract significant participation from Europe, but without having a negative impact on any other Breeders' Cup races.

Of course, there hasn’t historically been a clear-cut division of juvenile turf sprints in U.S. racing, so in preparation for the new event, the Breeders’ Cup—partly in cooperation with U.S. racetracks—scheduled four “Win and You’re In” prep races for the Juvenile Turf Sprint. The first was the Norfolk Stakes (Eng-II) at Royal Ascot in England, won by Wesley Ward’s unbeaten filly Shang Shang Shang, but the remaining three races were U.S.-based events that were created or modified specifically to serve as preps for the Juvenile Turf Sprint.

Santa Anita was the first to get in on the act, switching the five-furlong Speakeasy Stakes from dirt to turf, a change that saw the Louisiana-bred It’s Gonna Hurt post a gutsy gate-to-wire victory for trainer Brian Koriner. Whooping Jay, representing Doug O’Neill, was closing at the finish to be beaten less than a length, while Ward’s favored filly Mae Never No checked in third.

One day later, Belmont Park followed suit by moving the historic six-furlong Futurity Stakes (gr. II) from the main track to the turf course, which resulted in Uncle Benny—a son of Declaration of War out of a Storm Cat mare—sweeping from last place to prevail for trainer Jason Servis. Backtohisroots, coming off a seventh-place finish in the Hopeful Stakes (gr. I) on dirt, likewise appreciated the switch and finished a close second at odds of 56-1.

Finally, Keeneland wrapped up the “Win and You’re In” series by inaugurating the 5 ½-furlong Indian Summer Stakes, which saw the Mark Casse's talented Strike Silver—runner-up in the Sanford Stakes (gr. III) on dirt—unleash an explosive finish to overcome a poor start and rally from a dozen lengths off the pace to win by a neck over Ward’s filly Chelsea Cloisters, who tracked the pace and struck the front in the homestretch, only to be run down late.

A field comprised just of the above-mentioned runners would make for a great race, though the final field for the Juvenile Turf Sprint should be even deeper. At least a few contenders from Europe figure to make the trip, and on the U.S. front, Moonlight Romance—another filly from the deep stable of Wesley Ward—could even vie for favoritism based off her decisive victory in the Kentucky Downs Juvenile Turf Sprint Stakes last month.

The Juvenile Turf Sprint will be part of the November 2nd race card at Churchill Downs and will carry a purse of $1 million.