With the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” schedule nearly complete for 2018, the time has come to begin sorting the contenders from the pretenders for this year’s Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
In this week’s Getting to Know feature, we focus on Robert J. Baron’s Promises Fulfilled, winner of the $250,000, Grade 2 Stoll Keenon Ogden Phoenix Stakes at Keeneland on Oct. 5, a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” race for the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 3 at Churchill Downs.
For many readers of this blog, Promises Fulfilled very likely flew onto their radar in late 2017 or early 2018 on the Triple Crown trail. The chestnut colt finished third in the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes to close his 2017 season and won the Grade 2 Xpressbet Fountain of Youth Stakes in his 3-year-old bow. But as the races got longer on the 2018 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve trail, it became obvious that Promises Fulfilled had some distance limitations.
The front-running colt set the pace and faded to ninth in the Xpressbet Florida Derby and went to the front before fading to 15th in the Kentucky Derby.
That led to the decision to return Promises Fulfilled, who had won his first two starts sprinting, to shorter distances after the first jewel of the Triple Crown.
In his first start after the Kentucky Derby, Promises Fulfilled set a blistering pace through a wicked half-mile in :43.68 in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens Stakes Presented by Mohegan Sun on the Belmont Stakes undercard. Although he faded to third, beaten by 4 ½ lengths in the seven-eighths of a mile race, that start would sharpen him up nicely for the summer.
He followed with a 3 ¼-length runaway win in July at Saratoga in the Grade 3 Amsterdam Stakes in which he rated in second through a half-mile for the first time in his career. He earned a 113 Equibase Speed Figure, just two ticks off the career-best 115 he earned for winning the Fountain of Youth.
A big test came in the Phoenix Stakes as Promises Fulfilled took on older males for the first time in the three-quarter-mile prep race for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. He again charged right to the front before battling gamely in the stretch to hold off Whitmore by a head.
With three wins in his three most recent starts and Equibase Speed Figures of 113-108-113, Promises Fulfilled has earned a starting spot in the Sprint and cemented his credentials as one of the leading contenders. In fact, he probably would vie for favoritism with Imperial Hint and defending Sprint winner Roy H.
Promises Fulfilled is not nominated to the Breeders’ Cup and would need to be supplemented for $100,000 to compete in the World Championships. Trainer Dale Romans said after the Phoenix that he expected to go on to the Breeders’ Cup with Promises Fulfilled and that he would consider the Dirt Mile in addition to the Sprint, but for our purposes let’s focus on the Sprint until the pedigree segment.
Speed horses have done fairly well in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint over the last 20 years (1998-2007) — three winners were in front after the opening quarter-mile and six led after a half-mile. The percentages are better at Churchill Downs, which has hosted five of the last 20 editions of the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
Two of five winners led after the first quarter-mile, three winners led after a half-mile and four of the five were first or second at that point in the race.
Three-year-olds also have fared well in the Sprint, winning three of the last six editions of the race and seven of the last 20.
Recent form also is key as 14 of the last 20 winners won their final prep race and all but one during that stretch entered off a top-three finish.
Romans is based at Churchill, which seems like a nice home-track advantage for Promises Fulfilled, but while he won his debut under the Twin Spires he has lost his last two starts at Churchill.
Other than the fact that there is some serious talent in the Sprint division — the aforementioned Imperial Hint, Roy H, Whitmore, and Phoenix third-place finisher Limousine Liberal are among a deep group — Promises Fulfilled has the credentials of a Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner.
Promises Fulfilled is from the second crop of 2011 Preakness Stakes winner Shackleford. Promises Fulfilled is one of five graded/group stakes winners sired by Shackleford, who also won the Grade 1 Metropolitan Handicap and Grade 1 Clark Handicap while earning $3,090,101 in three seasons. Shackleford had terrific natural speed that he could carry around two turns, and so far his top two earners, Promises Fulfilled and Malagacy, have demonstrated similar ability.
Switching to the bottom half of this pedigree, each of Promises Fulfilled’s first three dams (mother, maternal grandmother, and maternal great-grandmother) won a race at a mile and 70 yards or longer.
Promises Fulfilled’s dam (mother), Marquee Delivery, by Marquetry, finished second in the Grade 3, one-mile Gardenia Stakes in 2008 and won three races at a mile or longer. She also produced Grade 3-placed multiple stakes winner Marquee Miss. Promises Fulfilled’s grandam (maternal grandmother), Fast Delivery, by Little Missouri, won three stakes, including a pair at 1 1/16 miles, and produced a stakes winner.
While I believe Promises Fulfilled is best-suited to sprinting, the Dirt Mile, a one-turn race at Churchill Downs should also be well within his scope. His best race to date from an Equibase Speed Figure perspective was the Fountain of Youth at 1 1/16 miles around two turns. The key question is can he ease off the gas pedal just a little bit and drill the opening half-mile in 45 or even 46 seconds, because if he set the pace through a half-mile in 44 seconds and change, he could run out of gas in the final furlong of the Dirt Mile. That pace probably is sustainable in the Sprint but nit stretching out to a mile