Two of the country's finest sprinters will square off in Saturday's 35th running of the Grade 1, $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap when Mitole, winner of seven straight, faces defending Vanderbilt-winner Imperial Hint at Saratoga Race Course in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
One of the day's three graded stakes, the six-furlong event for 3-year-olds and up pays tribute to the iconic owner, breeder and ambassador of racing, who was posthumously inducted into Racing's Hall of Fame in 2015 and campaigned champion thoroughbreds Discovery, Next Move, Bed o' Roses and Native Dancer.
Mitole enters Saturday's test from a pair of Grade 1 victories. Owned by William and Corinne Heiligbrodt and trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, a two-time winner of the Vanderbilt, Mitole notched his first win at said caliber in the Churchill Downs on May 4.
The 4-year-old Eskendereya bay colt shipped to Belmont Park for a victory in the Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap, where he defeated five Grade/Group 1-winners and tied for a career best 108 Beyer Speed Figure. He registered the same number when defeating Grade 1-winner Whitmore two starts prior in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint at Oaklawn Park, which was his first graded stakes win.
Mitole has been training over the Oklahoma Training Track since late June and has recorded four serious breezes over the track, the most recent of which was a three-furlong move in 38.11 seconds on July 21.
“He's been training impressively all year and hopefully it continues,” Asmussen said.
Never worse than third in 11 career starts, Mitole has not lost since a runner-up finish in the Gazebo last February at Oaklawn. He then defeated allowance company by seven lengths before romping home to a nine-length triumph in the Bachelor and, subsequently, a win in the Chick Lang at Pimlico in May 2018. He did not race again until this past March, where he scored in a six-furlong allowance at Oaklawn Park by 4 ¾ lengths.
Jockey Ricardo Santana, Jr., who has piloted Mitole to all eight of his career victories, will guide the speedy colt once more when he leaves from the inside post.
Seeking to become the first back-to-back winner of the Vanderbilt since Cognizant won the first two editions of the race in 1985-86, Imperial Hint will make his first start since a third-place effort in the Group 1 Dubai Golden Shaheen on March 30 at Meydan Racecourse.
The 6-year-old dark bay Imperialism horse is a two-time Grade 1 winner. Following an effortless victory in last year's Vanderbilt, which he won under a hand ride by Hall of Famer Javier Castellano by 3 ¾ lengths, he returned to the winner's circle once more in the Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park before eventually finishing third as the favorite in the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Sprint at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Luis Carvajal, Jr. was on the fence between running Imperial Hint, who has trained into the race at Monmouth Park in New Jersey, in the Vanderbilt or the $100,000 Tale of the Cat on August 9 at the Spa.
“It was a decision that we made with the [owner] Mr. [Raymond] Mamone and myself,” Carvajal said. “The weather in New Jersey [was difficult] with the heatwave and we had a few days with a lot of rain and that didn't help, but he's training well. We decided to run in the Vanderbilt. The horse was doing great going into last year's race. He was just coming off winning the Grade 2 [True North at Belmont Park], This year it will be an interesting race. A couple of nice horses like Asmussen's horse [Mitole], so it will be interesting to see this year.”
One of three millionaires in the Vanderbilt field, Imperial Hint boasts the highest bankroll with $1,841,655 in a career that has seen 12 victories in 21 career starts.
Castellano, a two-time leading rider at The Spa, will seek his fourth Vanderbilt victory in the past five runnings when Imperial Hint breaks from post 3.
Mr. Amore Stables' Firenze Fire will attempt to turn the tables on Mitole after finishing fifth in the Grade 1 Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap last out. Trained by Jason Servis, the 4-year-old bay colt is by Poseidon's Warrior, who won the 2012 edition of the Vanderbilt.
Firenze Fire will seek his first Grade 1 win since taking the Champagne at Belmont Park as a 2-year-old. During his sophomore campaign, he won the Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont Park, where he recorded a career best 107 Beyer, and the Grade 3 Gallant Bob at Parx Racing.
Firenze Fire will leave from post 4 and will be ridden by two-time Saratoga leading rider Irad Ortiz, Jr.
Completing the field for the Vanderbilt are Do Share [post 7, Luis Saez], Diamond Oops [post 6, Julien Leparoux], Strike Power [post 2, John Velazquez] and Mr. Crow [post 5, Jose Ortiz].
The Alfred G. Vanderbilt is slated as Race 9 on Saturday's 12-race card, which also includes the Grade 2, $250,000 Bowling Green in Race 10 and the Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy presented by NYRA Bets in Race 11. First post is 1 p.m.
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