Imperialism nibbled on a biscuit, ate a few mints, and rolled around in the hay in his stall the morning of Oct. 23 in Barn 27 at Belmont Park. It's hard to argue with owner Steve Taub, who said he has got a happy horse.
"I've had more than 400 horses, and he's a real special individual," Taub said of Imperialism, who was pre-entered in the TVG Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I). "We feel he's very competitive, and he wants to race. He's in fine order. He knows he's here for a purpose."
Imperialism gave Taub and trainer Kristin Mulhall a real thrill when he finished third in the 2004 Kentucky Derby (gr. I) behind Smarty Jones and Lion Heart. The 4-year-old gray Langfuhr colt has more than held his own in grade I company at longer distances, but his connections decided to roll the dice and try the Sprint, which is expected to have the shortest-priced favorite of the day in undefeated Lost in the Fog.
In 25 career starts, Imperialism has raced only once at the six-furlong distance of the Sprint--he finished fourth in an entry-level allowance test at Calder Race Course in August 2003 before Mulhall took over the training. But of his six wins, four have come in sprints--one at 5 1/2 furlongs and three at seven furlongs.
In his last two starts at seven furlongs, Imperialism used his strong late kick to win grade II stakes in California. On both occasions, he previously competed around two turns; he heads into the Sprint off a fifth-place finish in the 1 1/4-mile Jockey Club Gold Cup (gr. I) at Belmont.
In his Aug. 14 victory in the Pat O'Brien Breeders' Cup Handicap at seven furlongs at Del Mar, Imperialism defeated Taste of Paradise, who came back to win the Oct. 1 Vosburgh Handicap (gr. I) at six furlongs at Belmont as the longest shot on the board in a 10-horse field.
"The biggest question we had was what race to run him in," Taub said. "Kristin made the suggestion, and I said, 'Super.' We're not here to just watch him run around the racetrack. If he could speak English, he might say, 'Give me one more chance to run in New York.' "
"He has been super aggressive lately," said Mulhall, who gallops her own horses.
Taub called the Gold Cup a "throw-out" race. "It didn't unfold the way I envisioned it would," he said. "But he was no worse for wear after that race."
Imperialism did, however, make a strong bid off fast early fractions at the six-furlong point of the race before he flattened out.
Previous editions of the Sprint at Belmont have been won by horses on the lead or just off the pace.
Taub, a hands-on owner who loves to spend time at the barn, likened the operation to an "Elizabeth Taylor movie. Mulhall, 23, "has the enthusiasm of a 13-year-old on a farm with a horse." And there's John Flakes--"Short Man"--a 50-year groom he called "a fabulous person and true character of the racetrack in the most positive way."
Imperialism has finished first, second, or third in 14 of his 25 starts and has earned $898,605. Taub said the colt would race next year as a 5-year-old as long as Mulhall believes he's "physically and mentally sound."