Tampa Bay Downs trainers Luis Carvajal, Jr., and Ignacio Correas IV aren't sweating the results of the 2019 Eclipse Awards, even though each has a finalist in the competition.
For Carvajal, it's enough that his (now)-7-year-old Florida-bred, Imperial Hint, is one of three finalists in the Male Sprinter category for the third consecutive year. Forced to miss the Breeders' Cup Sprint because of a foot blister, Imperial Hint is back in training at Tampa Bay Downs for the $1.5-million Riyadh Dirt Sprint on Feb. 29 in Saudi Arabia.
That event is part of a program that includes the $20-million Saudi Cup, the richest horse race in history.
“He worked great (Friday, breezing 3 furlongs in 36 seconds), and if he keeps going the same way that's what we're going to do,” said Carvajal, who would also like to make the Dubai Golden Shaheen Sponsored by Gulf News on March 28, a race in which Imperial Hint finished third last year.
“He feels great, he looks great and his coat is shining and dappled. He hasn't lost the fire at all,” Carvajal said. “This is the way I want to have him to the day of (the Riyadh Dirt Sprint).”
Although Imperial Hint boasts a victory last year against fellow Male Sprinter finalist Mitole in last summer's Grade I Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga, the injury that forced him to miss the Breeders' Cup Sprint scuttled his chances.
Mitole, who won the Sprint at Santa Anita to complete a 6-for-7 season, is expected to easily beat Imperial Hint and fellow finalist World of Trouble in the Eclipse Award voting by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, Daily Racing Form and the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters.
“We beat (Mitole) on the racetrack, but he had four Grade I wins and we couldn't prove our win at Saratoga was legit at the Breeders' Cup,” Carvajal said. “But to be a finalist three years in a row is saying a lot.”
The voting should be closer in the Older Dirt Female category, with Correas represented by last year's Longines Breeders' Cup Distaff winner, Blue Prize, who trained at Tampa Bay Downs last winter. The (now)-7-year-old mare handed Eclipse favorite Midnight Bisou her only defeat of the year in that race and also won the Grade I Juddmonte Spinster Stakes at Keeneland for the second year in a row.
The Distaff was the (then)-4-year-old Midnight Bisou's only defeat in eight races, and her seven consecutive graded-stakes victories are expected to sway enough voters in her favor against Blue Prize and fellow finalist Elate.
“It's not in my power to do anything about (the voting),” said Correas, who took great satisfaction in having Blue Prize, a 3-year-old champion filly in Argentina, ready for a supreme effort on Nov. 2 on international racing's biggest stage.
“I'm thankful for the ride we had with her. You don't get a horse of her caliber every day. Everything comes to an end, but the fact the best race of her career was her last one, there's not a better statement.”
Blue Prize was sold three days after the Distaff by owner Merriebelle Stable for $5-million at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Mixed Sale to Larry Best's OXO Equine. She will be bred to Into Mischief, last year's leading sire.
For the record, the Bill Mott-trained Elate ran once at Tampa Bay Downs, finishing second as a 3-year-old to Tapa Tapa Tapa in the 2017 Suncoast Stakes.
Tampa Bay Downs fans will also be keeping a close eye on the voting in the Older Dirt Male and Male Turf Horse categories.
The finalists in the Older Dirt Male category include Longines Breeders' Cup Classic winner Vino Rosso, who raced three times at the Oldsmar oval. He won an allowance/optional claiming event here as a 2-year-old and finished third in the 2018 Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes and fourth in the Grade II Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby.
World of Trouble, in addition to being a finalist as a Male Sprinter, is a finalist in the Male Turf Horse category, almost certain to be won by unbeaten Bricks and Mortar, also the favorite for Horse of the Year.
Regardless, the Florida-bred World of Trouble was a Tampa Bay Downs sensation. As a 3-year-old in 2018, he won the Pasco Stakes by 13 ¾ lengths and finished third in the Lambholm South Tampa Bay Derby. Last year, he won the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders' and Owners' Association Marion County Florida Sire Stakes by 13 ¾ lengths (yeah, again), achieving a track-record 109 Beyer Speed Figure.
World of Trouble went on to win Grade I stakes on both dirt and turf.
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