Why Private Zone's time is now for BC Sprint

Profile Picture: Vance Hanson

October 16th, 2015

This is the first in a series profiling the top contenders for the $1.5 million Breeders' Cup Sprint.

Nothing is assured in the racing game, but his lineage always suggested Private Zone had a strong chance of succeeding somewhere.

Born six years ago in Ontario, the gelded son of 2000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile (G1) and two-year-old champion Macho Uno descends from the top Canadian broodmare Amelia Bearhart, who famously reared 1997 Breeders' Cup Turf (G1) winner Chief Bearhart. A champion grass horse in the U.S. as well as Horse of the Year in Canada, Chief Bearhart also had a successful half-brother, Grade 1 winner Explosive Red.

It's also worth noting that Private Zone's fourth dam, Myrtlewood Lass, was a half-sister to the influential stallion Mr. Prospector.

Private Zone was first sent to Panama to race. Voted champion two-year-old imported colt in that Central American nation, he also won a local Group 1 before returning to North America during the summer of his three-year-old season.

Private Zone lost his first eight outings (which included one in Dubai) following his re-importation, but did run second in four consecutive Southern California stakes during that span, including the Malibu (G1), Palos Verdes (G2) and Vernon O. Underwood (G3).

It wasn't until he returned from Dubai that Private Zone began visiting the winner's circle on a more frequent basis. He has since established himself among the nation's best horses from six furlongs up to a mile.

Indeed, despite having won the 2013-14 editions of the six-furlong Vosburgh (G1) at Belmont, Private Zone has looked much better going seven and eight furlongs. While his Vosburgh margins were narrow, he's comfortably won the Cigar Mile (G1), Churchill Downs (G2), Belmont Sprint Championship (G3), and Forego (G1) in the past year going farther. Losing efforts in the 2013 Cigar Mile and 2015 Gulfstream Park H. (G2), the latter to Honor Code, were also sharp.

On October 31, Private Zone will try for a third time to win the Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1). His first attempt, at Santa Anita in 2013, lends credence to the long-held observation that there's a subtle yet significant difference between "California speed" and that shown elsewhere.

Coming off his first Vosburgh win, where he had led throughout, Private Zone was simply not fast enough to keep up after pressing a much faster pace between rivals while racing three wide. He wound up fading to 10th in a field of 12.

Perhaps learning from that experience, there was no attempt to apply pressure in last year's Sprint, also at Santa Anita. Again exiting the Vosburgh, where he was on or near the lead throughout, Private Zone was kept two to three lengths off the pace. Although he failed to produce much of a closing kick, he did manage to improve his position over the previous year in finishing third behind the now-retired Work All Week.

Will things be different this year? At the very least, the approach heading into the Sprint has changed entirely. Rather than seek an historic third win in the Vosburgh (G1), thus taking the risk of running a peak effort a month beforehand, connections have opted to have a fresh horse heading into the Sprint. When he enters the starting gate, Private Zone will have not raced since the August 29 Forego (G1) at Saratoga. About one-fourth of Sprint winners entered the race off a layoff of at least two months.

In addition to avoiding the Vosburgh hex (only one horse has ever pulled off the Vosburgh/Sprint double), the change in venue from Santa Anita to Keeneland may help Private Zone. While certainly in the realm of possibility, it's hard to envision him encountering fractions of :21 and change and :43 and change like he did at Santa Anita. The chances of him getting sucked into a hot pace or being run off his feet will, presumably, be reduced.

With some recent defections from the Sprint field, this is undoubtedly Private Zone's best chance in three years to not only win the Sprint, but also earn an Eclipse Award as the nation's leading male sprinter. He and his supporters now await the post position draw on October 26, the outcome of which will determine whether his chances remain high for the weekend or whether his best effort might instead be forthcoming in a potential title defense of the Cigar Mile on November 28. has the early Breeders' Cup PPs files available for all 13 races -- 4 on Breeders' Cup Friday (30th) and 9 on Breeders' Cup Saturday (31). Click here to access:

(Private Zone photo: NYRA/Adam Coglianese Photography)