Returning off of his effortless victory in the Grade 1 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap on July 28, in what was one of the most impressive performances this summer at Saratoga Race Course, Raymond Mamone's multiple graded stakes winner Imperial Hint will try to extend his victory streak to three in Saturday's Grade 1, $350,000 Vosburgh at six furlongs on the main track at Belmont Park.
As part of the Breeders' Cup “Win and You're In” Challenge Series, the Vosburgh, which awards the winner an all-fees-paid berth into the Sprint, will be shown on Belmont Park Live from 4 to 6 p.m. on MSG+ as part of the September Super Saturday card.
The 5-year-old son of Imperialism earned his first Grade 1 victory in the Vanderbilt under Hall of Fame rider Javier Castellano, who maintained a motionless crouch in the saddle atop the Florida-bred as he circled the field of six foes along his four-wide journey.
The Luis Carvajal, Jr.-trained horse continued with ease to the wire prompting racecaller Larry Collmus to remark in amazement that the 3 ¾-length winner never even tried during the completion of his call. The time of 1:08.98 over the track listed as good that day was only .94 seconds off the track record set by Speightstown over a fast track in the 2004 Vanderbilt on his way to becoming that year's Eclipse Award Champion Sprinter. Carvajal was equally shocked with his runner's performance.
“I was thinking that he was going to run a really good race, and I was hoping that he was going to win that race, but I never thought he was going to do it the way he did it,” Carvajal said. “It just amazed me the way he did it. I know he made it look easy. Javier said it made him look like a statue. That's why I'm looking forward to Saturday; he's training very, very well. He worked really good the other day, and hopefully he'll perform the same way. He's super. He's doing great, and I'm looking forward to Saturday.”
Imperial Hint has been a model of consistency for the Parx-based trainer with the exception of a disappointing sixth-place finish three starts back in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs on May 5, where he tired over the deep, sloppy course in mid-stretch after setting quick fractions amid the field of nine.
The race at Churchill Downs and a runner-up finish to one-length winner Roy H in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint at Del Mar accounts for the only two losses in the last 10 starts for Imperial Hint, a hot streak that began in the mud against open claiming company at Parx in November 2016 when he scored by six lengths over his home track.
Since the Vanderbilt, Imperial Hint has fired four bullet works at Parx and, like most horses in training on the East Coast recently, he had to work around patterns of inclement weather with most brought by remnants of Hurricane Florence. With one breeze on the mud and three over fast tracks, little seems to faze the speedy but versatile runner who will make his 18th career start on Saturday.
“Usually they're good as 3-year-olds, then when they come to four, they change, but it seems that this guy just got better,” said Carvajal. “Every time he works he puts in bullet works without even asking him. The rider takes him out here, and tries to hold him back, but he just goes. He seems likes he's just more mature and gotten a lot better, but like I always say we just go race by race. We just have to keep him sound.”
A return to the Sprint in this year's Breeders Cup on November 3 at Churchill Downs was the once long-range plan for Imperial Hint, but as the World Championships get closer, Carvajal said he wants to focus on the day-by-day and not get ahead of schedule. Adding the Breeders' Cup Sprint to the win column would be the icing on the cake for the humble Carvajal and his horse, as he tries to contain his excitement when given the chance to think about it.
“If we do go back to Kentucky, it's a different game, and the third one is the lucky charm,” Carvajal laughed. “I hope it definitely works that way. We'll go step by step and see how he's doing after this Saturday's race, and then we'll make plans for his next race.”
Imperial Hint will be ridden by Castellano from post 6.
Trainer Ray Handal has quickly become known as an astute horseman in the claiming game. A victory by his gelding Still Krz would make the 6-year-old by Old Forester as the first to advance from a claiming level start to a win the historic Vosburgh after Handal claimed him off trainer Jason Servis for $32,000 following his gate-to-wire victory by 4 ¾ lengths on August 15 at Saratoga.
The Ontario-bred looks to make his first graded stakes start while debuting for the fifth barn of his career. The winner of eight races from 31 lifetime starts could join Langfuhr, Victor Cooley and back-to-back winner Private Zone, who won in both 2013 and 2014, as Canadian-born Vosburgh winners.
Still Krz drew the outside post 7 and will have Irad Ortiz, Jr. in the irons.
Also entered to run in the Vosburgh is Loooch Racing Stable's Sightforsoreeyes for trainer Anthony Quartarolo and jockey David Cohen from the rail; Three Diamond Farm's Maniacal for trainer Michael Maker and Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez from post 2; Nice Guys Stable's Forge for trainer Dermot Magner and jockey Manuel Franco from post 3; KRA Stud Farm's Mr. Crow for trainer Ben Colebrook and jockey Luis Saez from post 4; and Jim and Susan Hill's Silver Ride for trainer Brian Lynch and jockey Jose Ortiz from post 5.
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