What figured to be a mismatch with Raymond Mamone’s Imperial Hint sent off as the overwhelming favorite seemed headed in that direction when the 6-year-old son of Imperialism cruised along on a clear lead over three rivals in the Sept. 28 six-furlong sprint at Belmont Park.
He led by 1 1/2 lengths after a half-mile in :44.65 and seemed to be coasting to victory.
“It was looking easy. I thought we’d win comfortably,” said Imperial Hint’s trainer, Luis Carvajal Jr.
The mood quickly changed, however, when Mr. Amore Stable’s Firenze Fire moved up alongside Imperial Hint leaving the quarter pole, and the Jason Servis-trained runner inched to a short lead in midstretch.
“It was like someone hit me in the face with a bucket of cold water,” Carvajal said.
“I was scared for a second,” said Mamone, 86, who could do without such stressful moments. “I was saying come on, come on again, and he did.”
Under urging from Castellano, Imperial Hint battled back to draw even with Firenze Fire and then won the bob at the finish line to register a victory by a nose for back-to-back Vosburgh wins and a free starting spot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint through the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
“He’s small, but he has a lot of heart, and this is the kind of race that proves it,” Carvajal said. “When he fought back, that’s what you want to see.”
The victory was the 14th in 23 starts for Imperial Hint, who was purchased privately for $25,000 as a 2-year-old by Mamone after the owner gave away his dam, Royal Hint, to the horse’s breeder, Shade Tree Thoroughbreds. He has earned $2,199,155.
“I never want this to end,” Carvajal said.
Next will be the Breeders’ Cup Sprint Nov. 2 at Santa Anita Park, where Imperial Hint is likely to meet up again with Runhappy Metropolitan Handicap winner Mitole, whom he beat by 7 1/2 lengths in track-record time in his previous start, the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap at Saratoga Race Course. It will mark Imperial Hint’s third start in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint after finishing second in 2017 at Del Mar and third as the favorite at Churchill Downs last year.
Carvajal said Imperial Hint didn’t care for the surface at Churchill Downs, but he will head into the Breeders’ Cup this time around off a demanding test rather than his unchallenged win in the 2018 Vosburgh, also as a 1-5 favorite.
“I don’t have to do much [with him] after this. This will be enough for the Breeders’ Cup,” Carvajal said. “It’s a long trip, but he was there before and he seems like he likes the atmosphere there. The Sprint, aside from the Classic and Longines Turf, will be one of the greatest races that Saturday.”
The final time for the six furlongs on a fast track was 1:08.35, which was .08 slower than Imperial Hint’s winning time in last year’s Vosburgh.—Bob Ehalt