Trainer Luis Carvajal Jr. already credits Imperial Hint with taking his small barn to storybook heights. After the dark bay colt scored a dominant victory in the $250,000 Smile Sprint Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream Park July 1, Carvajal may want to keep adjusting his shedrow's standards upward.
Video: Smile Sprint S. (G3)
Raymond Mamone's Imperial Hint, unraced since mid-February, made an emphatic return Saturday, when he rocketed up the rail coming off the final turn and let jockey Javier Castellano enjoy the ride to the wire en route to a 4 3/4-length victory in the six-furlong test.
With the Smile Sprint a Breeders' Cup "Win and You're In" event, Imperial Hint earned an all-fees-paid trip to the TwinSpires Breeders' Cup Sprint (G1) in November at Del Mar.
Imperial Hint was slated to start in the March 25 Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored By Gulf News (G1) but spiked a fever and developed pneumonia days out. Though he hadn't raced since his breakout win in the General George Stakes (G3) at Laurel Park Feb. 18, the son of Imperialism didn't miss a beat and bested runner-up Awesome Banner to earn his fourth straight victory.
"I was very happy that he ran this way. I wanted to see him run this way coming back from Dubai," Carvajal said. "He's like a dream come true. It's like a Cinderella story. I run a small barn, but I have very good clients that support me. It's just been great."
The normally front-running Imperial Hint found himself behind horses, as Awesome Banner was sent to the lead and was in front through fractions of :22.31 and :44.96. Awesome Banner drifted off the rail enough rounding the far turn to leave space for Imperial Hint, who slipped through the opening and powered down the stretch.
Sent off as the 3-5 favorite in a field of eight that included defending race winner Delta Bluesman, Imperial Hint completed the distance in 1:09.23 over a fast main track
"The outside horses put a good pace in the race and for my horse (it) worked out perfectly," Castellano said. "I got a little concerned when I asked my horse. He was right at the heels of the horse in front and it took me a little while to settle in, and we weren't in the best path. But finally we switched off the bridle and went through on the rail nice and easy in the tiniest path. I loved the way he finished."
Bred by Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, Imperial Hint paid $3.20, $2.40, and $2.20 as the 3-5 favorite. He has won five of his last six starts dating back to last September and now has seven wins from 11 starts with $500,155 in earnings.
Earlier on the Saturday card, multiple stakes winner Three Rules broke through to earn his first graded stakes victory when he got his neck down over pacesetter Mo Cash in the $150,000 Carry Back Stakes (G3) going seven furlongs.
Video: Carry Back S. (G3)
The win snapped a five-race losing skid that mounted for Three Rules after the son of Gone Astray went unbeaten in his first five starts—all at Gulfstream. He needed every advantage of the comforts of home after he slipped between Sweetontheladies and Hunka Burning Love to engage Mo Cash on the final turn only to drift out extremely wide coming into the lane.
Mo Cash stubbornly wouldn't yield after he set fractions of :22.64 and :45.07, but Three Rules was determined with his surge down the middle of the track and got up to hit the wire in 1:22.63.
"I had a very good trip. He broke good and there was a lot of speed in the race, and I didn't want to go to the lead," said winning jockey Cornelio Velasquez. "I wanted to stay behind the speed. He had to go between horses, and he ran very good today. I followed the hole and waited to the quarter pole to ask him, and he was running to the end."
Owned by Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, which bred the colt in partnership with Geoff Roy and Tom Fitzgerald, Three Rules has won six of 11 starts with $914,160 in earnings. He is out of the Full Mandate mare Joy Rules.