Mr. Nightlinger is a multiple stakes winner on the grass this year.

Mr. Nightlinger is a multiple stakes winner on the grass this year.

Four Footed Fotos

Turf Sprint: It's All Downhill

Unique Santa Anita turf course offers multiple possibilities.

- by Craig Harzmann

The return of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships to Santa Anita Park Oct. 24-25 will usher in a trio of races new for the event’s 25th edition. In all likelihood, the most action-packed of the bunch will be the Turf Sprint.

Carrying an inaugural purse of $1-million, the Turf Sprint will be contested on the hillside grass course, a layout unlike any other on the planet. To Santa Anita regulars, of course, watching ’em run “down the hill” is a routine experience. Newcomers, however, will be met with a peculiar scene, one that begins with a break from a far-off ledge, where the runners appear like distant targets in a coin-op shooting gallery. In less than a quarter-mile, the competitors face a dip, an incline, and a right-handed bend, steadily gathering momentum behind the palm trees while heading for the expansive final turn.

After the front-runners reach the main track crossover—top-flight sprinters usually peel off the half-mile in less than :43—the field hits the course proper at breakneck speed. Consider it a 75-second adrenaline rush. The design of the layout is indeed tricky, thoroughly demanding the best of horses, jockeys, and handicappers alike. Not surprisingly, familiarity plays a key role in these races, and those who call Southern California home will have a definite edge in the 61⁄2-furlong Turf Sprint Oct. 25. 

Leading the way for the locals is California Flag. A son of Avenue of Flags trained by Brian Koriner, the gray/roan gelding turned heads with a course-record shocker in Oak Tree’s Sept. 24 Morvich Handicap (gr. IIIT). Sure to be a solid contender as well is another California-bred 4-year-old, Idiot Proof. The son of Benchmark, runner-up in last year’s TVG Breeders’ Cup Sprint (gr. I) and the Gulf News Dubai Golden Shaheen (UAE-I) in March, will skip a second crack at the Sprint because he dislikes Santa Anita’s newly installed Pro-Ride synthetic main track, according to trainer Clifford Sise Jr.

Standing in their path, though, is an invader from the East—a mediocre sort on dirt who has morphed into a monster on the grass. Barring the unforeseen, Mr. Nightlinger, who worked at Keeneland Oct. 16 (VIDEO) will enter the gate as the Turf Sprint favorite, and it’s not difficult to see why. A son of Indian Charlie, Mr. Nightlinger became unstoppable once his trainer, Bret Calhoun, put him on turf. The 4-year-old colt has racked up five straight since the switch, all gate-to-wire efforts, including dominating victories in Keeneland’s Shakertown Stakes (gr. IIIT) and the Churchill Downs Aegon Turf Sprint (gr. IIIT) plus a course-record performance in the Arlington Sprint Handicap.

Also slated to head west is True to Tradition, who earned an automatic berth in the Turf Sprint by capturing Woodbine’s Oct. 4 Nearctic Stakes (Can-IIT). Stir in Get Funky, Rouse the Cat, and Heros Rewardas well as foreign entrants Diabolical and Only Answer, and you have the makings of an old-fashioned barnburner. And that’s exactly the way Santa Anita turns up the heat when they run ’em down the hill.

2008 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint Pre-Entries:

Fleeting Spirit(IRE) (*09)
Only Answer(GB)
Rebellion (GB) has first preference in the Dirt Mile
Slew's Tizzy has second preference in the Dirt Mile
Tropic Storm has second preference in the Sprint

View the Complete Pre-Entries for Breeders' Cup 2008