Raymond Mamone's Imperial Hint brought the Saratoga faithful to their feet with a jaw-dropping performance in Saturday's Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap.
Multiple Grade 1-winner Mitole and Strike Power tussled through a swift opening quarter-mile in 21.77 seconds, but when Hall of Famer Javier Castellano asked Imperial Hint to move, the 6-year-old son of Imperialism responded with an impressive turn of foot to mark the half in 44.21 en route to covering six furlongs in a track record 1:07.92. In the process, he lowered the mark first set by Spanish Riddle, who ran six furlongs in 1:08 in 1972 and Speightstown, who captured the 2004 renewal of the Vanderbilt, in 1:08.04.
Trainer Luis Carvajal, Jr. said he enjoyed all the emotions of the moment, particularly when the Saratoga patrons rose to their feet to cheer Imperial Hint as he entered the winner's circle.
“Last year, we won this race and it was the first Grade 1 for the horse, for the owner, and for me. It was great, but this time, it just gave me goosebumps to bring him back to the winner's circle and everyone was standing up cheering for him,” said Carvajal, Jr. “Imperial Hint deserves all the credit. He's not a big-sized horse and he doesn't have the perfect pedigree, but he's all heart. It's amazing what this animal can make you feel.
“Just hearing the people cheering for him, it was special,” added Carvajal, Jr. “We have a small stable and for something like this to happen to me, at 47-years-old, it's hard to believe. It probably won't sink in for a few more days. To see my horse on the cover of the paper, it's incredible.”
Imperial Hint was making his first start since finishing third in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen in March. Carvajal, Jr. said he wasn't expecting such an outstanding effort off the layoff.
“As a trainer, sometimes you think you undertrain a horse and sometimes things don't go according to plan. We missed a work before we came here because of the weather,” said Carvajal, Jr, who trains Imperial Hint from his base at Monmouth Park. “To face Mitole, who is a great horse and winning all these Grade 1s, you need to be prepared. I thought my horse would run a good race, but I didn't expect him to win it the way he did it. This little rocket, he keeps surprising me.”
Carvajal, Jr., said Imperial Hint, who shipped into trainer Chad Summers' barn for the Vanderbilt, benefited from local hospitality and was relaxed on Saturday afternoon ahead of his record-setting performance.
“I left the barn to go and get changed and when I came back later, Imperial Hint was laying down sleeping, just resting up for the race,” said Carvajal, Jr. “He's very happy here in Chad Summers' barn. We used to run against each other with Mind Your Biscuits and Chad loves this horse. He gave us everything we needed and if the horse is comfortable, I'm comfortable.”
Imperial Hint will continue to enjoy his time at Saratoga on Sunday, particularly as his stall in Summers' barn offers a view of the main track, before heading home to New Jersey later this evening.
“He ate up good and went out for a walk and grazed a little bit. All is good,” said Carvajal, Jr. “He's going to be watching all the races today through his window in the back of the stall. I'm sure he'll be entertained all afternoon watching the races. On the track in the morning, he just loves to stand and watch the horses going by. I think he loves it here at Saratoga.”
Carvajal, Jr. said Imperial Hint will likely follow the same schedule as last year and point next to the Grade 1, $300,000 Vosburgh, a six-furlong sprint at Belmont Park which offers a 'Win & You're In' challenge race offering a berth in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
“If everything is going well, we'll follow the same path and run back in the Vosburgh and hopefully get a ticket to the Breeders' Cup,” said Carvajal, Jr.
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