Watch the 2019 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita live on Sky Sports Racing (Sky 415 | Virgin 535) on Friday 1st and Saturday 2nd November.
By Peter Fornatale
The nature of American racing means that it's hard to find preps that are reliable guides for the Turf Sprint, as often the contenders have been running over a variety of distances, as well as on the main track. Indeed, two of the last five winners ran over a mile on their final start before contesting the Turf Sprint.
One trend that does stand out is that European trainers have a terrible record in the race and have clearly been deterred, having no entries this year in a field made up exclusively of North American-trained runners.
Compared to previous renewals, there is a notable change to the race this year as it will be run over Santa Anita's more conventional five-furlong oval track as opposed the slightly longer, and far more idiosyncratic, downhill turf course which features the only right-handed turn in American racing.
There have been two back-to-back winners of the Turf Sprint in its history and one of those, Stormy Liberal, is back once again as he attempts to join the Breeders' Cup greats by landing his third win at the meeting.
To be honest, this season hasn't really gone to plan for the now seven-year-old, who has hit the board several times but failed to win. To be honest, his third in the Al Quoz Sprint isn't far off the best form on offer and he ran reasonably well in the Eddie D on his latest start. He loves Santa Anita, having won eight times here, and it would be quite a story should he prevail.
He has finished behind Eddie Haskell three times this year and that opponent has had a strong season, landing the Daytona over the Turf Sprint course and distance before running well in the Eddie D when just failing. He didn't get a good trip there after a bad break and did well to finish so close, clearly coming into the Breeders' Cup in good form. However, he has a tough draw and is no superstar, so he’s not overly appealing at the head of the market.
There is a lot of intertwining form in this year's renewal and with no standout performer in the field most of the contenders have taken turns in beating each other.
Shekky Shebaz and Final Frontier, for example, have traded wins recently in minor stakes races, both hitting triple-digit Beyers in the process, figures that compare very well with most of this field despite the pair having started at allowance and claiming levels this season. They look to be hitting their best stride at the right time but this will be tougher shipping in against proper graded performers.
Om was only beaten a nose in this in 2016. He is seven now and has been running almost exclusively over a mile since then despite patently not being as effective over longer distances. He seems to have relished the return to sprinting on the last two occasions, scoring a nice confidence booster in an allowance race last time having been placed in the Grade 1 Jaipur on his penultimate start. The move to Peter Miller seems to have brought back some of his old zest and he could go well at bigger odds despite a wide post, although it is slightly worrying he has not run for four months.
As well as Stormy Liberal and Om, Miller also has Belvoir Bay, who was a tremendous second in the Al Quoz Sprint. She has not quite matched that form since and was behind Om in the Jaipur when last seen. She needs more and stall 12 makes things potentially tricky off a near five-month break.
Totally Boss only just failed to run down Om in a Churchill Downs allowance back in June and has since gone onto better things, landing an allowance of his own and taking a Grade 3 at Kentucky Downs last time with a career best 101 Beyer. He has drawn the inside post which is not ideal for one with his style of running, but he has the talent should the pace collapse.
Past Turf Sprint winners Mongolian Saturday, Chamberlain Bridge and Regally Ready all contested the Turf Monster and this year's winner, Pure Sensation, looks to have strong prospects of enhancing that record. He hit a strong 102 Beyer when scoring on yielding going in that contest on his most recent start, but seems equally adept on quick ground. He is well drawn and has a good run style to attack and is a highly consistent performer.
He was touched off by Leinster in the Grade 3 Troy Stakes on his but was conceding 4lbs and there shouldn't be much between them at level weights.
Leinster has since gone on to frank the from when splitting Stubbins and Imprimis in the Woodford, which is another top trial for the Turf Sprint. There is very little between this trio on that run, with Imprimis worst off at the weights and probably further behind in his preparation than the two who beat him, looking to be building to something that might allow him to reverse the form. Leinster and Imprimis have both run fast enough to win a Turf Sprint and in beating them Stubbins has also suggested he has the ability to take the prize.
Legends of War has not quite run big enough numbers to be considered a major player here, but he did beat Stubbins in a Grade 3 at Kentucky Downs, further confusing matters. He received a good ride there, however, while Stubbins suffered from a three-wide trip.
VERDICT: In a tight configuration that may favor horses racing on or near the front, I’ll make PURE SENSATION the top pick. But I’m also very interested in Imprimis, who could be rounding into form. If a closer wins, I think it’s him.