Dirt sprint races are the most common races in the United States and the foundation of so many daily racecards in this country, yet it sometimes feels like the Breeders’ Cup Sprint gets overshadowed by other World Championships races like the Longines Classic, Longines Distaff, and TVG Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance.
The Sprint typically is an exciting race on World Championships weekend with eight winners paying $20 or more in the last 20 years and five who returned $30 or more for a $2 win bet.
The field for the Sprint usually features some of the speediest older males (and on occasion females) from the previous year who remained in training, but the race also gets a boost each year from emerging 3-year-olds at the marquee summer meets at Saratoga Race Course and Del Mar.
This week we’ll take a closer look at an up-and-coming sprinter from Southern California in Dr. Schivel, who rallied from off the pace to win the $300,000 Bing Crosby Stakes by a neck July 31 at Del Mar. With the win, Dr. Schivel earned an expenses-paid berth in the Nov. 6 Breeders’ Cup Sprint via the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series.
Dr. Schivel failed to meet his reserve on a final bid of $37,000 at the 2019 Keeneland January horses of all ages sale when he had just become a yearling (the designation for a 1-year-old) with the turn of the calendar year.
The bay colt by Violence made his career debut in June 2019 at Santa Anita Park for trainer Luis Mendez and the partnership of his breeders, William A. Branch and Arnold R. Hill. He was cleverly named after the Batman villain better known to most comic book fans as Mister Freeze. By Violence out of Lil Nugget, by Mining for Money, Dr. Schivel’s namesake was an evil scientist who swore a vendetta against Batman after the hero had thwarted three planned diamond heists.
Like his namesake, Dr. Schivel (the racehorse) was foiled in his first two starts when third in his 4 ½-furlong debut in June at Santa Anita and then second at 5 ½ furlongs at Los Alamitos 13 days later. But unlike the supervillain Mister Freeze, the third time proved the charm for the promising colt as he rolled to a 5 ¾-length romp Aug. 8, 2020, at Del Mar in a breakout performance in a three-quarter-mile sprint. He earned a 108 Equibase Speed Figure for the win – a 26-point improvement from his previous best – and subsequently was sold privately to the partnership of Red Baron’s Barn, Rancho Temescal, and William Dean Reeves with co-breeder Branch retaining an interest.
In his first race for the new partnership, Dr. Schivel won the Grade 1 Runhappy Del Mar Futurity by 1 ¾ lengths as the 7-5 favorite on Sept. 7 while stretching out to seven-eighths of a mile.
Dr. Schivel was sidelined after the Del Mar Futurity and did not race again for more than nine months. He returned June 18, 2021, for new trainer Mark Glatt, who said the colt had multiple minor injuries that led to the extended absence but did not require surgery.
Dr. Schivel rallied from fourth to win by a neck at Santa Anita Park in his comeback race against older horses at three-quarters of a mile, earning a new top 109 Equibase Speed Figure. The now-3-year-old again faced older males in the three-quarter-mile Bing Crosby Stakes and closed from sixth to win by a neck under jockey Flavien Prat for his fourth straight win and second Grade 1 victory.
From a speed-figure perspective he took a minor step back to a 102 Equibase Speed Figure and from a 97 Beyer Speed Figure for his June return to a 90 for the Bing Crosby, but there is plenty of reason for optimism when it comes to looking ahead to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in November.
First, he’s 3-for-3 at Del Mar, host of this year’s World Championships, so he clearly likes this main track.
As an off-the-pace runner, he also figures to get plenty of pace to set up his late rally. There has only been one wire-to-wire winner of the Sprint in the last 20 years, and eight of the last 16 Sprint winners were three lengths off the pace or more after the opening quarter-mile.
Finally, as a 3-year-old with only six races to date, Dr. Schivel is eligible to improve in the next three months. In fact, 3-year-olds often improve significantly in the summer-fall and six of the last 20 editions of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint were won by 3-year-olds, including Runhappy in 2015 and Drefong in 2016.
I find pedigree most useful in evaluating Triple Crown or Breeders’ Cup candidates when trying to determine if they will be able to handle added distance, but that doesn’t apply when looking at a three-quarter-mile sprint. Still, pedigree can still be quite useful as it pertains to class.
Dr. Schivel is from the fourth crop of Violence, a Grade 1 winner at 1 1/16 miles by top sire and stamina influence Medaglia d’Oro. Violence has sired 31 stakes winners and 11 graded/group stakes winners from five crops of racing age with Grade 1-winning sprinters Volatile and No Parole joining Dr. Schivel as standouts.
Dr. Schivel’s dam (mother), the aforementioned Lil Nugget, won four of 14 career starts and finished in the top three in eight races. Like Dr. Schivel, she was a sprinter and 2-for-2 at Del Mar. Lil Nugget is a half-sister (same dam, different sire) to Grade 1 winner Ultra Blend, a consistent and versatile racehorse who won stakes on dirt and synthetic surfaces at distances ranging from three-quarters of a mile to 1 1/16 miles and also placed in multiple stakes on the grass. Ultra Blend won 11 of 25 starts with 22 top-three finishes and more than $1 million in earnings.