SPRINT PREVIEW 2003: Quick Competition

Last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) winner Orientate has completed his first season at stud. The iron horse Kona Gold, who raced in a record five consecutive Sprints, has called it quits. This year's Sprint division has been a hodgepodge all season, with upsets galore in major events. And a few of the expected heavy-hitters in the Oct. 25 race have turned in their strongest performances at longer distances.

Despite the absentees and the question marks, this year's six-furlong Sprint has lured the most competitive field in recent memory. As in most divisions this year, the Eclipse Award title remains up for grabs.

Aldebaran, owned by Flaxman Holdings and trained by Bobby Frankel, looms the Sprint favorite off a super 2003 campaign in which he has won five of seven starts, including three grade I stakes: the San Carlos, Metropolitan, and Forego Handicaps.

Though Aldebaran hasn't raced shorter than seven furlongs this season, the San Carlos was held at Santa Anita, so he has a race over the surface this year. Another potential Sprint starter who has done especially well at Santa Anita is Bluesthestandard.

Aldebaran, in three consecutive victories in New York, defeated Najran, who had loomed one of the top choices in the Sprint but was retired Oct. 9 by owner Buckram Oak Farm.

Perhaps the quickest from the gate at six furlongs is Shake You Down, who was claimed for $65,000 at Aqueduct in March of this year and since then has won six of seven starts, including a grade II stakes and two grade III races. Owned by Robert Cole Jr. and trained by Scott Lake, Shake You Down hasn't been farther back than 11Z2 lengths at the first quarter call in his last six starts.

Edmund Gann's Midas Eyes, with three wins and two seconds in five career starts, also looms a serious early factor. He won the Swale Stakes (gr. III) and Derby Trial (gr. III) this year and should be a fresh horse.

Two other horses raise particular interest--Overbrook Farm's Clock Stopper and West Point Thoroughbreds' Ethan Man.

Clock Stopper won the Oct. 9 Perryville Stakes at about seven furlongs at Keeneland and was just a few ticks off the track record. Overbrook general manager Ric Waldman said after the race he saw nothing but upside with the 3-year-old gelding.

Ethan Man, winner of the six-furlong Swale Stakes (gr. III) in 2002, finished second to Najran in the Phoenix in his second start since a 16-month layoff. He could be sitting on go and has enough early speed to land a comfortable early spot.

The Sprint has produced fair results in its first 19 editions. There have been four wire-to-wire winners, several almost wire-to-wire winners, and seven winners that came from sixth or farther back at the first call.

Locally, the results have been a toss-up. Smile, who held the lead for all but the first quarter-mile in 1986, and Cardmania, who flew home from ninth to nail front-running Meafara in 1993, won the two editions of the Sprint held at Santa Anita.