With the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” schedule complete for 2017, the time has come to begin sorting the contenders from the pretenders for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships. Many of the series winners from the last few weekends will move on to the Breeders’ Cup as one of the favorites for their respective races.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on Roy H, winner of the Grade 1, $300,000 Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes on Oct. 7 at Santa Anita Park and a guaranteed spot in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
Much of the attention leading up to the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint will be on last year’s winner and 2016 champion sprinter Drefong, and rightfully so. He boasts dazzling speed and won the Grade 1 Forego Stakes in August to punch his return ticket to this year’s edition of the Sprint at Del Mar.
But Drefong has only completed a single race since last year’s Sprint win – he unseated his rider in the early moments of the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar in July – and I believe Roy H is very close to Drefong when it comes to talent with the benefit of a stronger foundation.
For a gelding who had never competed in a stakes race in 13 starts before June, Roy H has come a long way in a short amount of time. Let’s take a closer look at his path to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.
Roy H is owned by Rockingham Ranch and David A. Bernsen. Rockingham purchased Roy H as a 2-year-old at auction for $310,000. After showing some promise in his first six career starts, all on the grass at distances ranging from five-eighths of a mile to one mile, trainer Peter Miller tested him on the dirt main track at Santa Anita in December 2015. He ran a respectable fourth, beaten by 1 ¼ lengths, and returned about four months later at the same track and 6 ½-furlong distance and finished second while earning a then-career-best 107 Equibase Speed Figure. A subsequent disappointing sixth-place finish, beaten by more than 11 lengths, prompted a return to grass for three races. He won the last of those three races on Santa Anita’s downhill turf course and posted a 109 Equibase Speed Figure, so in May 2017, Miller brought him back in another race on the downhill turf course.
Rain intervened, however, and the race was washed off the grass. With solid form on the main track, Roy H stayed in the race and flashed an extra gear in the stretch, drawing away to win by 7 ¼ lengths for an eye-opening 120 Equibase Speed Figure.
Miller then entered Roy H in his first stakes race, the Grade 2 True North Stakes on June 9 on dirt at Belmont Park, where he was met with mild support at the betting windows as the fourth choice in an eight-horse field. Despite a wide trip, Roy H delivered another dominant performance, completing three-quarters of a mile in 1:08.59 for a 2 ½-length score.
The victory was breakthrough for Roy H as his first win in a stakes race as well as his first time shipping out of Southern California. The 127 Equibase Speed Figure was then and is now the highest figure earned in a dirt sprint stakes race in North America this year.
Roy H made his next start in the Grade 1 Bing Crosby Stakes at Del Mar in July, but the complexion of the race changed shortly after the starting gates opened when Drefong unseated jockey Mike Smith in his season debut. The riderless champion sprinter forced Roy H extremely wide entering the stretch, which allowed the winner, Ransom the Moon, to slip through the inside and take command before holding off a late bid from a resurgent Roy H.
Bernsen acquired an interest in Roy H following the Bing Crosby. In his final prep for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Roy H delivered a powerhouse win in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championships Stakes, surging gamely in the stretch to take the lead and edging away to win by a length in 1:08.68 at six furlongs for a 126 Equibase Speed Figure. That gave Roy H the two highest Equibase Speed Figures earned in sprint stakes on the main track in 2017.
At first glance, Roy H’s 0-for-5 record at Del Mar looks concerning, but four of those races came on grass and the other was his troubled second in the Bing Crosby.
Roy H is in absolute peak form right now with a string of consistently strong races entering the Breeders’ Cup. He’s been faster than any other main-track sprinter this year, and he’s comfortable racing just off the pace or dropping back and stalking from a little bit farther back depending upon the pace scenario.
Drefong seems to run very well when rested, but I like Roy H’s chances for a mild upset in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, especially if Drefong is challenged for the early lead.
Roy H is from the 11th racing crop of Grade 1 winner More Than Ready, who opened his career with five straight wins and the following year ran fourth in the 2000 Kentucky Derby. More Than Ready is an extremely versatile sire who’s had success both in the U.S. and in Australia, where he has sired four champions. More Than Ready has sired elite runners on dirt and grass, going short and longer distances, and he’s had success with both males and females and 2-year-olds as well as runners who developed into stars later in their careers.
Verrazano, by More Than Ready, won the Wood Memorial and Haskell Invitational Stakes in 2013, while Australian champion More Joyous is his leading earner to date with more than $4.5 million.
From 14 crops of racing age, More Than Ready has 182 stakes winners, including 86 group or graded stakes winners, from 2,168 starters that have earned $155,171,368 through Oct. 17.
Roy H is out of multiple graded stakes winner Elusive Diva, who won six of 17 starts at distances from three-quarters of a mile to a mile and earned $484,510. She won graded stakes on both grass and the main track. His grandam (maternal grandmother), Taj Aire, was a stakes winner at one mile on the main track. In addition to Elusive Diva, Taj Aire also produced English group stakes winner Tropics and U.S. stakes winners R. Baggio and Handyman Bill.
For a race like the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, speed is far, far more important than pedigree, and Roy H has an abundance of that. But it is nice to see some class in this pedigree that explains how he’s emerged as an elite sprinter after taking a few years to find his calling.