Speedy Saratoga record-holder is approaching Saturday's $2-million race in outstanding form, according to his Tampa Bay Downs-based trainer.
Two-time Tampa Bay Downs stakes winner Imperial Hint will attempt to score his most significant victory Saturday in the $2-million Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, Calif.
The Sprint is the eighth race Saturday, with post time at 5:36 p.m. Tampa Bay Downs-based trainer Luis Carvajal, Jr., said 6-year-old Imperial Hint is approaching the 6-furlong race in top form as he attempts to improve on a second-place Sprint finish in 2017 at Del Mar and a third-place effort last year at Churchill Downs.
Imperial Hint, shown with trainer Luis Carvajal, Jr., and his wife Giannina, will try to make his third Breeders' Cup Sprint try the charm Saturday at Santa Anita
The 36th renewal of Thoroughbred racing’s year-end championships begins Friday with five races for 2-year-olds. Saturday’s card consists of nine Breeders’ Cup races, with the $6-million Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic, the 12th race of the day, scheduled for 8:44 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.
Tampa Bay Downs will simulcast both days of Breeders’ Cup action, in addition to racing from tracks across the country. Concession stands will be open throughout both days, as will the Riders Up! pub on the first floor of the Grandstand.
Friday’s first race from Santa Anita is at 1:45 p.m. EDT, with the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint, Friday’s fifth race, kicking off the championship action at 4:12 p.m.
Saturday’s first race is at 1:07 p.m. EDT, and the Breeders’ Cup excitement begins at 2:55 p.m. with the fourth race, the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
Imperial Hint, who was bred in Florida by Shade Tree Thoroughbreds., Inc., and is owned by Raymond Mamone, will break from the No. 9 post in the 10-horse field under Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano, his regular pilot.
“You have to have your horse at his best when you run against these kind of horses, and I think that’s where we’re at right now,” Carvajal said after Imperial Hint worked out 4 furlongs in 46 seconds Thursday at Monmouth Park in New Jersey under assistant Alejandro Contreras, three days before flying to California.
“I think we saw a great horse working out. Every horse that goes into the starting gate in the Breeders’ Cup has a legitimate chance to win, but I don’t fear anybody. Everything points to him running a big race, and I think he deserves to win a Breeders’ Cup race,” Carvajal said.
Imperial Hint is the co-second choice on the morning line at odds of 4-1, with 4-year-old Mitole the 9-5 favorite. Imperial Hint defeated Mitole on July 27 in the Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt, setting a Saratoga 6-furlong track record of 1:07.92 for 6 furlongs.
Imperial Hint also won the Grade I Vosburgh on Sept. 28 at Belmont, marking the second consecutive year he has won both New York stakes fixtures. Imperial Hint is 14-for-23 in his career with earnings of $2,199,155.
Imperial Hint’s Tampa Bay Downs stakes victories came in 2016 in the Florida Cup Ocala Breeders’ Sales Sophomore in his second lifetime start and in 2018 in the Florida Cup Sprint. The only other Breeders’ Cup Sprint entrant to race at Tampa Bay Downs, 4-year-old colt Firenze Fire (third in last season’s Florida Cup Zaxby’s Sprint), battled Imperial Hint to the wire in this year’s Vosburgh, finishing second by a nose.
Carvajal said training on the deep, sandy Tampa Bay Downs surface throughout much of his career has been beneficial to Imperial Hint’s development as a hard-nosed competitor and his longevity during an era when few Thoroughbreds race beyond age 5.
“A lot of horses do great up north when they come out of Tampa. They get fresh, they get sound and they come back in the summer to win races,” Carvajal said. “The dirt track is unbelievably good, and the turf is like a carpet.”
Trainer Ignacio Correas, IV, also subscribes to the philosophy that horses that train at Tampa Bay Downs throughout the winter have a “leg up” on many of their rivals when the Oldsmar oval closes and the action heats up elsewhere.
Correas trains 6-year-old Longines Breeders’ Cup Distaff contender Blue Prize, owned by Merriebelle Stable and to be ridden by Joe Bravo. Blue Prize never competed at Tampa Bay Downs, but she made good use of her opportunities training here to hone her skill, confidence and stamina.
In her most recent start on Oct. 6, Blue Prize won the Grade I Spinster at Keeneland for the second consecutive year.
“She was in Tampa for three years, and there is no doubt it helped her form a lot,” Correas said. “It’s a good, safe surface that is well-maintained, and the weather is usually good. A lot of horses come out of there in very good shape for the big spring and summer races.”
Two Breeders’ Cup Classic entrants have raced at Tampa Bay Downs. Vino Rosso, a 4-year-old colt owned by Repole Stable and St. Elias Stable and trained by Todd Pletcher, finished third in last year’s Grade III Sam F. Davis and fourth in the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. The 5-year-old mare Elate, who will challenge males for owners Adele Dilschneider and Claiborne Farm and trainer Bill Mott, finished second in the 2017 Suncoast Stakes.
Irad Ortiz, Jr., rides Vino Rosso and his brother Jose Ortiz is on Elate.
Another Breeders’ Cup runner who competed at Tampa Bay Downs is Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint entrant Final Frontier, a 4-year-old colt owned by Godolphin and trained by Tom Albertrani.
The Tampa Bay Downs barn area is open and the track opens for training on Wednesday morning. The 2019-2020 meeting, which officially began July 1, resumes Nov. 27 with the annual Opening Day program.