Patience Pays Off for Orseno With Talented Turf Sprinter Imprimis

The Life
Imprimis, outside, rallied to win the Runhappy Turf Sprint Stakes Sept. 12 at Kentucky Downs to punch his ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint. (Coady Photography)

Patience has always been key for Imprimis, who looms as a formidable runner when the $1 million Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint is contested Nov. 7 at Keeneland Race Course.

The Broken Vow gelding went through some minor issues that delayed his debut until he was 4. But then he put together consecutive five-furlong turf victories at Gulfstream Park on behalf of breeder Craig Wheeler to create interest in him.

Mike Hall and Sam Ross, partners in Breeze Easy LLC, initially declined to purchase Imprimis only to have second thoughts after receiving assurances from Wheeler and his wife, Liz, that they would be acquiring a good horse. The Wheelers did not steer them wrong.

Imprimis winning Grade 2 Shakertown in April 2019. (Coady Photography)

Imprimis won for the eighth time in 15 career starts when he staged a dramatic rally from eighth to reel in Front Run the Fed by a neck in the $700,000, Grade 3 Runhappy Turf Sprint Stakes Sept. 12 at Kentucky Downs.

The dramatic victory, at six furlongs on soft turf in 1:09.93 for trainer Joe Orseno and jockey Irad Ortiz Jr., provided the latest example that Imprimis is well worth waiting for. The Runhappy Turf Sprint, which carried a fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, marked the Florida-bred’s second start following a nine-month layoff due to two throat surgeries.

“They’ve done such a super job with him,” Wheeler said. “When he needs a little time, they give him time. They just had confidence that he would come back, and he did.”

The Runhappy Turf Sprint Stakes hiked Imprimis’ career earnings to $759,948. Wheeler does not have seller’s remorse.

“I would have loved to have continued on,” he said, “but I am in the selling business.”

If the new connections have any regrets, it is that the gelding, after crossing the finish line first in the Aug. 8 Troy Stakes at Saratoga in his comeback race, was disqualified and placed third for interference in a controversial decision.

Otherwise, it is impossible to have any issue with a horse who handles any kind of turf and owns victories at Gulfstream Park, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, Pimlico, and Monmouth Park while running credible races in the Group 1 King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot and in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Santa Anita. He took sixth in the King’s Stand and the Turf Sprint.

“I think he’s a better horse now than then because he’s a little fresher,” Orseno said.

He got exactly what he was looking for when Imprimis launched a bold three-wide move in the Runhappy Turf Sprint.

“He tries. He’s really doing well,” the trainer said. “Irad had nothing but praise for him when he got off and he was quick to accept the mount for the Breeders’ Cup, so we’re all set.”

Joe Orseno, right, with stakes winner Happy My Way in 2014. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Imprimis landed in an ideal barn when Breeze Easy assigned him to Orseno, who is based at Gulfstream Park. When the conditioner was asked about the 6-year-old’s workout schedule leading to the Breeders’ Cup, it said much about his training style that he replied, “The horse will tell me. Right now, I’m just letting him eat and be happy.”

Orseno went on, “You kind of have to do what they want to do. That’s the way I train. I don’t put horses on a schedule that they follow. A lot of people do. For me, I do what my horse likes, not what the schedule says.”

The recent Kentucky Downs start was appealing because it gives Imprimis ample time to recover from the rigors of the race and to prepare for the massive challenge that awaits at the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

“I think the eight weeks in between will be perfect for him,” Orsenso said.

It helps, too, that Imprimis has done well in his two starts at Keeneland. He showed his courage when he overcame a stumble at the start to capture the always-tough Grade 2 Shakertown Stakes there last April. He took third in the Grade 2 Woodford Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select last October.

Orseno knows what it takes to succeed on the international stage the Breeders’ Cup represents. He owns two victories from 11 starters. Both of those came in 2000, with Macho Uno in the Juvenile and Perfect Sting in the Filly and Mare Turf.

“This is the first horse I’ve had in a while that is really live and has a good shot in the Breeders’ Cup,” he said. “I’ve run some other ones, but this time we’re going in loaded.”

Orseno acknowledged that there were no such expectations when he began training Imprimis two years ago. Royal Ascot and the Breeders’ Cup were never on Breeze Easy’s radar.

“When we bought him, we had no idea he was going to take us to such great heights,” the trainer said. “We just figured we were buying a Florida-bred that was pretty fast. It turned out to be a lot more.”

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