Favored Heitai ran his rivals off their feet with a comfortable front-running romp in the inaugural $300,000 Evangeline Downs Turf Sprint the night of June 21 at Evangeline Downs Racetrack Casino & Hotel (VIDEO).
The homebred Louisiana speedster, sent off at odds of 2-1 in a field of 10, recorded his seventh win in the past eight starts for trainer Karl Broberg and Frank and Barbara Rowell's Rowell Enterprises. Regular rider Diego Saenz was aboard the 4-year-old gelded son of Fusaichi Pegasus , who was timed in :56.03 for five furlongs on firm turf while finishing 3 3/4 lengths in front.
Heitai (pronounced Hay-Tie, Japanese for soldier) is out of the Rowells' multiple stakes-winning Mr. Sparkles mare Sparkles of Luck. He won for the second time in as many tries on grass, his initial triumph coming in Evangeline's Need for Speed Stakes May 3. He most recently captured the Louisiana Legends Sprint on the Evangeline main track May 24 and has now won three stakes in a row.
"When they first announced this race (in February), I said 'He is going to win it,' and he did," said Broberg, who is second nationally in victories in this year's training standings behind Steve Asmussen. "If they don't get to him early, they don't catch him. My only instructions to Diego before the race was to go to the front."
The Turf Sprint, the richest Thoroughbred race in the track's 49-year history, was the featured event on a heavy stakes program in Opelousas, La. A race earlier, even-money favorite Sunbean ($4) captured the $100,000 Evangeline Mile for Brittlyn Stable and trainer Ron Faucheux. Before that, Malibu Yankee ($11.40) sprang a mild surprise in the $100,000 Opelousas Stakes for fillies and mares on turf at 1 1/16 miles for Jerry Namy and trainer Tom Amoss.
In the main event, Heitai brushed with Whiskey Bravo out of the gate before quickly sprinting away to a 1 1/2-length edge over Snappy Girl, Sum of the Parts, and Berlino Di Tiger while clipping off an opening quarter mile in :21.28. The speedy bay took them around the turn maintaining a two-length advantage, then kicked away at the head of the stretch. He continued to pour it on through the drive, hitting the furlong mark 4 1/2 lengths in front in :43.81, and won as much the best under steady handling by Saenz.
"He was really running and pulling on my reins," said Saenz. "I just rode him like a winner."
Whiskey Bravo came through along the rail to get second under Joseph Patin Jr., with the 4-year-old filly Snappy Girl hanging tough for third under Glen Murphy.
Heitai's victory was worth $180,000, boosting his lifetime earnings to $679,943 from a record of 10-4-3 in 21 starts. His only loss this year came in the Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (gr. III) April 10 at Oaklawn Park, when he finished fifth.
Carrying 121 pounds, Heitai paid $6.60, $4.40, and $3.80, topping an $86.80 exacta with 24-1 shot Whiskey Bravo, who returned $16.40 and $7.60. Snappy Girl, at 17-1 odds, paid $6.60, fueling a $605.40 trifecta.
Sum of the Parts, the 7-2 third choice, finished fourth, followed by disappointing 5-2 second pick Gantry. Then came Lemon Drop Dream, Solar Charge, Redhotrush, Berlino Di Tiger, and Unitas.