Sprint Preview: Speed Trap

View a list of Breeders' Cup Sprint pre-entries . . .

Gather the world's best sprinters and what do you expect? Well, fast fractions naturally. As it so happens, the 1999 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I) didn't feature the fastest opening quarter-mile split in the 16-year history of the race. Nor the quickest half-mile or five-eighths. But it did produce the sharpest final time -- Artax equaled Mr. Prospector's 26-year-old Gulfstream Park track record when he crossed the finish line in 1:07.89 (Mr. Prospector ran when races were timed in fifths; his time 1:07 4/5).

Because every member of the field is capable of running so quickly, it makes the Breeders' Cup Sprint a difficult race to handicap. In the 16 previous runnings of the six-furlong race, only three favorites have won -- Eillo in the inaugural running (1984, $1.30-1); Cherokee Run (1994, $2.80-1); and Lit de Justice (1996, 4-1).

Artax was nearly the favorite last year, he and Forestry, who finished fourth, both going off at $3.70-1. Artax finished a half-length ahead of Kona Gold, who should be the favorite for this year's race.

Bruce Headley, trainer andb co-owner of Kona Gold, has been pointing the 6-year-old gelding toward this year's Sprint since he crossed the finish line last year. The very meticulously mapped out plan has seen Kona Gold make five starts in 2000, with only one nose defeat (to stablemate Son of a Pistol) keeping him from an unbeaten campaign.

Most recently, Kona Gold tuned up for the Sprint in the Oct. 14 Ancient Title Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) at Santa Anita. Under Alex Solis, he won by three lengths in 1:08.11, making him the horse to beat at Churchill Downs.

By the way, Kona Gold was also in the 1998 Sprint at Churchill Downs, finishing third behind Reraise and Grand Slam.

One of the most intriguing of the 19 Sprint candidates is More Than Ready, who has not run six furlongs in well over a year. But, remember this is the horse who was the only speed factor in this year's Kentucky Derby (gr. I) to still be around at the finish.

Beaten just three lengths in the Dwyer (gr. II, 1 1/16 miles) and 2 3/4 lengths in the Haskell (gr. I, 1 1/8 miles), trainer Todd Pletcher decided to shorten More Than Ready up. The son of Southern Halo responded with a win in the seven-furlong King's Bishop (gr. I). In his last start, the Sept. 23 Vosburgh (gr. I) also at seven furlongs, More Than Ready was beaten a half-length by his stablemate, fellow Sprint entrant Trippi.

More Than Ready has learned to come from off the pace, which could work in his favor. Working against him, however, is the history of the race, which has seen only three 3-year-old winners.

Trippi switched to sprinting immediately after his 11th place finish in the Derby and has won three of four. With his front-running style, he possesses an opposite running style to his entrymate.

Pletcher is not the only trainer with two Sprint hopefuls. Ben Perkins Jr. has an interesting pair in Delaware Township and Max's Pal. Delaware Township was running in optional $50,000 claiming races in June, but after a fourth-place finish in the Vosburgh, came back to win the Forest Hills Handicap (gr. II) in 1:08.56. Max's Pal, the MATCH series sprint division winner, has won eight of 10 starts this year.

Another pace factor figures to be Caller One, who has reeled off three consecutive wins over three different surfaces and looks on top of his game. Also of interest is Five Star Day, who was pre-entered but did not make the field a year ago. Instead, he ran in the Thirty Slews Stakes the day before and won easily. Five Star Day has made only two starts this year -- he injured a leg in January -- but looked good winning the Phoenix Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland on Oct. 14.

Three fillies have won the Sprint in the past, and this year, two have pre-entered: Kinsman Stable's Dream Supreme and Juddmonte Farms' Honest Lady.

View a list of Breeders' Cup Sprint pre-entries . . .