by Jon White
August 1, 2019
A fresh and eager-to-run Imperial Hint, who had not appeared under silks since finishing third in the Group I Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 30, won Saratoga’s Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap last Saturday with Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano aboard.
Imperial Hint completed six furlongs in a sizzling 1:07.92 to break the track record in the G1 Alfred Vanderbilt. The 5-year-old Kentucky-bred son of Imperialism was credited with a 114 Beyer Speed Figure. That tied for the highest Beyer recorded this year through last Saturday. It matched Come Dancing’s 114 when she took Aqueduct’s Grade II Distaff Handicap at seven furlongs on April 15.
But then, just one day after Imperial Hint’s dazzling Vanderbilt victory, 3-year-old speedster Shancelot went out and one-upped Imperial Hint on that same Saratoga stage.
Fans at Saratoga and those watching elsewhere via simulcast were treated to a scintillating display of sheer speed when Shancelot won last Sunday’s Grade II Amsterdam Stakes.
Beginning from the outside post in the 6 1/2-furlong Amsterdam, Shancelot dashed immediately to the front and improved his position from there, as they say. The 6-5 favorite turned it into a tour de force while remaining undefeated.
On the far turn, Shancelot drew out to a six-length lead at the five-sixteenths pole. After that, he ran up the score. He was 10 in front at the eighth pole. At the finish, he was 12 1/2 lengths in front.
As Shancelot streaked home, it was sort of like watching a high-speed racecar leaving a bunch of jalopies far, far behind.
Shancelot was responsible for torrid fractions of :21.79, :43.94 and 1:07.63. The astonishing 1:07.63 clocking for the six-furlong split was faster than Imperial Hint’s 1:07.92 that broke the track record a day earlier.
Shancelot, who left 11 foes in his wake, won the Amsterdam in 1:14.01. The track and stakes record of 1:13.74 was established by Quality Road in the 2009 Amsterdam.
Quality Road’s Beyer in his Amsterdam was 109 compared to Shanelot’s 121 in his Amsterdam despite the fact that Quality Road’s final time was better than Shancelot’s. Was the Saratoga main track really so vastly different for the 2009 and 2019 editions of the Amsterdam? I doubt it. This leads me to conclude that Shancelot’s lofty 121 might be a bit higher than it should be. But even if that’s true, Shancelot’s Vanderbilt slightly lower figure still would be a biggie.
Shancelot’s 121 is the highest Beyer Speed Figure so far this year. These are the highest Beyers this year through July 28:
Beyer Horse (Date, Track)
121 Shancelot (July 28, Saratoga)
114 Come Dancing (April 5, Aqueduct)
114 Imperial Hint (July 27, Saratoga)
112 City of Light (Jan. 26, Gulfstream Park)
109 Roy H (Jan. 19, Santa Anita)
109 Imprimis (March 9, Gulfstream Park)
109 McKinzie (May 3, Churchill Downs)
109 Wellabled (May 10, Arlington Park)
108 Preservationist (July 6, Belmont Park)
108 Laki (April 20, Laurel)
108 Mitole (April 13, Oaklawn Park)
108 Mitole (June 8, Belmont Park)
When Shancelot won a seven-furlong maiden special weight race at first asking last Feb. 16 at Gulfstream, he recorded a 91 Beyer Speed Figure. When he won a six-furlong allowance/optional claiming race June 23 at Monmouth Park, he improved to a 100 Beyer. For Shancelot to then record a 121 Beyer last Sunday in just his third career start was quite a feat.
Daily Racing Form’s David Grening noted that Shancelot’s 121 is the highest Beyer Speed Figure in a race shorter than one mile since Midnight Lute recorded a 124 when he won the Grade I Forego at Saratoga in 2007.
Ridden by Emisael Jaramillo and trained by Jorge Navarro, Shancelot was making his stakes debut in the Amsterdam. Even before the Amsterdam, Navarro had said Shancelot was the best horse he has ever trained, a significant statement coming from someone who has conditioned such accomplished runners as Private Zone, X Y Jet and Sharp Azteca.
As Grening has pointed out, Private Zone, X Y Jet and Sharp Azteca have combined to win 30 races, including 20 stakes, and earn more than $8.3 million.
Shancelot is Kentucky-bred colt by Shanghai Bobby (the Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old male of 2012). Next up for him is Saratoga’s Grade I H. Allen Jerkens Stakes at seven furlongs on the Aug. 24 Travers card.
It will be a mission impossible for anyone to beat Shancelot in the Jerkens if he comes anywhere close to running like he did in the Amsterdam.
The victories by Imperial Hint in the Vanderbilt and Shancelot in the Amsterdam were “two of the most impressive performances ever seen in the 156-year history of racing at Saratoga,” the DRF’s Grening wrote.
Going into last Saturday’s Vanderbilt, Imperial Hint had lost three in a row. Some were wondering if maybe he had lost a step.
But Imperial Hint went out and showed everyone that he is far from having lost a step. He stepped lively to win the Vanderbilt in the best race of his career from a Beyer Speed Figure standpoint.
In the Vanderbilt, Imperial Hint lurked a close-up third early in the field of six. As 1-2 favorite Mitole and 10-1 Strike Power were slugging it out in a head-and-head duel for the lead on the far turn, one has to think Castellano had a big smile on his face when sitting right behind them, especially since it appeared that Castellano had a ton of horse under him.
“When I saw those two horses hook up. I was third, in a great position in the race,” Castellano said afterward to Maggie Wolfendale on Fox Sports’ Saratoga Today telecast. “But turning for home, [Imperial Hint] wanted to go. I said to myself, ‘Oh, please, it’s too early. Don’t do that!’ But he had fun. He enjoyed the trip.”
Castellano and Imperial Hint also enjoyed their 2018 Vanderbilt trip when they collaborated to register a 3 3/4-length victory. Imperial Hint won that day with ridiculous ease in 1:08.98.
Last Saturday, Imperial Hint swept to the lead approaching the quarter pole, then spurted well clear in upper stretch to boast a 3 1/2-length advantage with a furlong to go. He continued on with a daylight cushion the rest of the way and prevailed by four lengths.
Sent off at 5-1, Imperial Hint won more like he was 1-5. He now has been victorious in 13 of 22 career starts.
As noted earlier, Imperial Hint clocked in at 1:07.92 for six furlongs last Saturday to break the track record. Spanish Riddle had posted a 1:08 flat final time at Saratoga in 1972 -- before races were timed in hundredths -- and Speightstown won the 2004 edition of the Vanderbilt in 1:08.04. Speightstown went on to get the job done in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Lone Star Park in 2004 en route to being voted an Eclipse Award that year as champion sprinter.
The rapid fractions in last Saturday’s Vanderbilt were :21.77, :44.21 and :55.82.
“When I looked at the times, my hairs stood up,” said Luis Carvajal Jr., who trains Imperial Hint.
In the NYRA communications’ stakes quotes following last Saturday’s Vanderbilt, Castellano said: “He’s a little horse with a big heart.”
That “little horse” was able to produce a very big Beyer Speed Figure in this year’s Vanderbilt. Imperial Hint’s previous best Beyer had been the 108 he recorded when he won the 2018 Vanderbilt.
Regarding Saturday’s Vanderbilt, I disagree that it was “start good for all but Mitole and Strike Power,” as stated in the Equibase chart. I do not think either one of them had a “bad” start.
The head-on angle of the video replay shows that those two did make slight contact as they were leaving the gate. But that’s all it was, slight contact. From the pan angle, it is clear to me that neither Mitole nor Strike Power was compromised at all by what happened at the start. In fact, stating that it was “start good for all but Mitole and Strike Power” would seem to be contradicted by the running positions in the chart. The chart has Strike Power breaking first and Mitole third. That does not support the chart-caller’s decision that it was “start good for all but Mitole and Strike Power,” especially with regard to Strike Power, whose start actually was so good that he was first out of the gate, according to the chart.
In my opinion, to state that it was “start good for all but Mitole and Strike Power” is very misleading. I say this as someone who was a Daily Racing Form chart-caller for 15 years at tracks all over the country.
According to the NYRA communications’ Saratoga notes on Sunday, Carvajal said he particularly enjoyed it when the patrons rose to their feet to cheer Imperial Hint as he entered the winner’s circle.
“Last year, we won this race and it was the first Grade I for the horse, for the owner [Raymond Mamone] and me,” Carvajal said. “It was great, but this time, it just gave me goosebumps to bring him back to the winner’s circle with everyone standing up cheering for him. Imperial Hint deserves all the credit. He’s not a big-sized horse and he doesn’t have the perfect pedigree, but he’s all heart.
“We have a small stable. For something like this to happen to me, at 47 years old, it’s hard to believe. It probably won’t sink in for a few more days.”
Carvvajal said the plan is for Imperial Hint to make his next start in Belmont’s Grade I Vosburgh Stakes, a six-furlong race on Sept. 28. The primary goal is the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita in early November.
It seems it’s a good thing for Imperial Hint that the 2019 BC Sprint will be somewhere other than at Churchill Downs, which is where it was held in 2018. Imperial Hint finished third as the 8-5 favorite in last year’s BC Sprint at Churchill, where he has not finished better than third in three starts.
In the 2017 BC Sprint at Del Mar, Imperial Hint finished second. Roy H won both the 2017 and 2018 BC Sprints.
Though Diamond Oops was no match for Imperial Hint in last Saturday’s Vanderbilt, the Lookin At Lucky gelding finished second as the longest shot in the race at nearly 30-1. Diamond Oops went into the Vanderbilt off a win in Gulfstream’s Grade III Smile Sprint Stakes on June 29.
Mitole ended up third, 7 1/2 lengths behind Imperial Hint.
For whatever reason or reasons, Mitole’s seven-race winning streak was snapped last Saturday. Perhaps he regressed some off his big effort when he won the Grade I Met Mile at Belmont Park on June 8. Perhaps Mitole’s defeat was due to getting involved in a spirited early duel for the lead with Strike Power. Perhaps after breaking from post 1, Mitole did not appreciate racing next to the inside rail, which might not have been the best part of Saratoga main track Saturday.
The Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes, which was decided at Saratoga last Saturday, and the Curlin Stakes, which was contested there last Friday, both served as a potential springboard to the Spa’s important Grade I, $1.25 million Travers Stakes on Aug 24.
The favorite did not win either the Jim Dandy or the Curlin. Tax took the Jim Dandy at 9-2. Highest Honors won the Curlin at 4-1.
Tacitus was sent away as the 8-5 favorite in the 1 1/8-mile Jim Dandy. This time the Equibase chart-caller got it right, in my view, when noting that it was “start good for all but Tacitus.” The chart-caller described it accurately when stating that Tacitus “came away the tardiest after stumbling badly at the break.”
Tax, ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr., began alertly and showed the way early before a full-of-run War of Will made a rapid early move to take over turning into the backstretch. Tax deserves considerable praise for the way he rated kindly just off the pace on the backstretch after relinquishing the lead to War of Will.
On the far turn, Tax advanced readily to regain the advantage in the vicinity of the five-sixteenth pole. He increased it to a 1 1/2-length lead with a furlong to go. Tacitus trailed early, then offered a challenge from the inside to Tax in the final sixteenth. But Tax was able to fend off Tacitus all the way to the finish. Tax won by three-quarters of a length in 1:49.28.
Tacitus had to settle for second, three-quarters of a length behind Tax. Global Campaign, who raced in contention through the early stages, lacked the needed response when the real test came and ended up third, nearly four lengths behind Tacitus.
War of Will paid the price for expending so much energy early. He ended up fifth. Also keep in mind that War of Will, like Mitole in the Vanderbilt, raced most of the way next to the inside rail. Again, that did not seem to be the best part of the track. Still, any way you slice it, War of Will’s connections had to be disappointed. It was War of Will’s second consecutive off-the-board finish since his victory in the Grade I Preakness Stakes on May 18.
Danny Gargan trains Tax, who now has won two graded stakes races. The Kentucky-bred gelding was victorious in the Grade III Withers at Aqueduct last Feb. 2. Gargan took over as Tax’s trainer when the son of Arch was claimed out of a maiden race for $50,000 at Keeneland last year on Oct. 21.
Prior to Tax’s Jim Dandy victory, he had finished behind Tacitus all three times they had met (Grade II Wood Memorial on April 6, Grade I Kentucky Derby on May 4 and Grade I Belmont Stakes on June 8).
On the one hand, it is to Tacitus’ credit that he came as close as he did to winning the Jim Dandy after a dreadful start. On the other hand, ever since he won the Wood, Tacitus has been doing a good job of finding a way to lose. He’s now lost three in a row since the Wood.
Tacitus finished fourth and was elevated to third through the disqualification of Maximum Security in the Kentucky Derby. Tacitus then lost the Belmont by one length as the 9-5 favorite when he finished second after traveling 65 feet farther than the victorious Sir Winston, according to Trakus. That was followed by Tacitus’ defeat as the chalk in the Jim Dandy.
A lot of bettors are understandably beginning to get pretty darn frustrated with Tacitus, who nevertheless still remains a serious Travers contender.
Tacitis is by Tapit. So is Highest Honors, who rallied from last in a field of six to win last Friday’s Curlin going away by 1 1/2 lengths. Endorsed ran second. Looking At Bikinis, the 6-5 favorite, finished third after winning his initial two career starts.
Chad Brown conditions Looking At Bikinis. Brown also trains Highest Honors, who now has two wins and a second from three lifetime starts.
In terms of Beyer Speed Figures, Tax was assigned a career-best 98, while Highest Honors recorded a career-best 94.
Enable, the best active Thoroughbred in the world, captured the Group I King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes last Saturday in England in what turned out to be a nail-biting close finish.
Ridden by Frankie Dettori and trained by John Gosden, Enable won by an outstretched neck in a quintessential example of an equine athlete’s will to win.
Razor-sharp Crystal Ocean, in a superb losing effort, made Enable really work hard for her victory. But at the conclusion of Enable’s 1 1/2-mile trip at Ascot, she not only defeated 10 rivals, she managed to extend her winning streak to 11.
During Enable’s string of 11 victories, she has won nine Group I races, including two renewals of the prestigious Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in France as well as a Breeders’ Cup Turf in America. Enable has lost just once in 13 lifetime starts. She is the only horse to ever win the Arc and BC Turf in the same season.
Oct. 6 has a great big circle on it this year for Enable. That is when the fantastic 5-year-old Great Britain-bred Nathaniel mare is scheduled to seek an unprecedented third Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe triumph.
Daily Racing Form and a number of good people parted ways last week. One of those no longer with the publication is Jay Hovdey, whose shocking exit is very bad news for racing fans who have enjoyed reading his columns for the past many years.
Hovdey’s final column for that publication appeared online last Friday.
Daily Racing Form bills itself as “America’s Turf Authority.” However, by virtue of Hovdey’s departure, the DRF now has lost much of its “authority.”
Mike Watchmaker and Byron King are two others who no longer are with the DRF.
As the DRF’s national handicapper, Watchmaker for many years compiled weekly national divisional rankings. I recently made reference to those rankings when I wrote that Watchmaker had Omaha Beach at No. 1 among the nation’s 3-year-old males despite the colt missing the three Triple Crown races. I predicted that if Maximum Security won the Haskell, “look for him to move to the top of Watchmaker’s rankings.”
Watchmaker did indeed move Maximum Security to No. 1 after his Haskell victory.
But now -- poof -- Watchmaker’s rankings are gone.
I worked with King in the late 1990s when we both were handicappers at the DRF’s national headquarters in Phoenix. King is a skilled handicapper who also has experience as an owner. He knows a lot about racing, but evidently that was not valued enough by the DRF.
As for the multiple Eclipse Award-winning Hovdey, is there a better turf writer in the sport today? No.
When I was a columnist/reporter for the DRF on the Southern California circuit from 1981-86, Hovdey was one of my bosses. He was an editor in the Los Angeles office. Of the many editors I have had through the years, none was better than Hovdey.
In the early 1980s, Hovdey also was the Southern California correspondent for the Thoroughbred Record magazine. On those rare occasions Hovdey could not cover that week’s racing at a SoCal track, he often asked me to fill in for him. I considered it an honor to do so. But it was also quite intimidating. The way I felt about it, pinch hitting for Jay Hovdey was a lot like a baseball player being asked to pinch hit for Ted Williams.
Hovdey’s stature was such that he became one of just two “executive columnists” during the DRF’s more than 100 years of existence. The only other executive columnist was the esteemed Joe Hirsch.
In Hovdey’s final DRF column, he recalled what he had written about Hirsch’s retirement in 2003.
Hovdey wrote: “More than a journalist, Hirsch has borne witness to an age and left its tales etched in stone. His tireless chronicling has captured both the shifting winds of a restless industry and the bedrock values that give Thoroughbred racing its permanent place in the heart.”
The very same can be said of Jay Hovdey.
Following Imperial Hint’s win in the Grade I Vanderbilt, he moved into the Top 10 this week in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. He had ranked No. 46 in the poll last week.
After Mitole’s defeat in the Vanderbilt, he moved down to No. 5 this week after being No. 2 last week.
Vino Rosso dropped out of the Top 10 this week after being No. 10 last week.
Here is the Top 10 for this week:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 397 Bricks and Mortar (36)
2. 318 Midnight Bisou (3)
3. 268 McKinzie
4. 202 World of Trouble
5. 198 Mitole (2)
6. 182 Sistercharlie
7. 109 Imperial Hint
8. 90 Maximum Security
9. 73 Seeking the Soul
10. 71 Thunder Snow