An Early Look at the Breeders’ Cup Sprint

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Now that the major Breeders' Cup prep races are behind us, we have three weeks to analyze the races, research horses that we aren't familiar with, and plan our wagering strategies. One of the most competitive races of the Breeders' Cup figures to be the $1,500,000 Breeders' Cup Sprint (gr. I), in part because defending winner Runhappy is targeting the Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile (gr. I).

One horse that has risen to prominence as a major contender is Masochistic, an ultra-fast and consistent six-year-old gelding that has won eight of his thirteen races. In two starts this year, he hasn't been challenged, winning a 6 ½-furlong allowance optional claiming race by 6 ¼ lengths and the seven-furlong Pat O'Brien Stakes (gr. II) by 3 ¾ lengths, earning massive Beyer speed figures of 107 and 110.

But as impressive as Masochistic has been, I think he could be vulnerable in the Breeders' Cup. His best races have come when he's gotten a clear lead, and when he's been challenged through fast fractions, he's suffered some surprising defeats. I can forgive his last-place finish in the 2015 Breeders' Cup Sprint, as he emerged from the race with an injury, but he also tired to finish second in the Bing Crosby Stakes (gr. I) and fourth in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship Stakes (gr. I), two six-furlong races in which he was beaten to the lead or stiffly challenged for command.

In addition, Masochistic couldn't have gotten an easier trip in the Pat O'Brien Stakes on August 27th, setting uncontested fractions of :22.65 and :45.01 while facing just two rivals. He'll enter the Breeders' Cup Sprint off a two-month layoff, and while he's run well off layoffs in the past and has been training sharply (he breezed a half-mile in :45.40 this morning), my gut feeling is that he could find the pace pressure of the Breeders' Cup Sprint too much to overcome.

Another accomplished Breeders' Cup Sprint contender is A. P. Indian, who is 6-for-6 this year with four graded stakes wins to his name, including the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (gr. I) and Forego Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. You can make a case that he's slightly better at seven furlongs rather than six, but he's also run six furlongs in less than 1:09 in his last four races, including a 1:08.25 at Saratoga that missed the track record by just 0.25 seconds. But in the Breeders' Cup, he'll be facing a big challenge--he'll be shipping across the country at the end of a busy campaign to make his first start at Santa Anita while facing a top-notch field of challengers. I won't be underestimating A. P. Indian in the Breeders' Cup, but I do wonder if he peaked during the summer.

Joking is also riding a prominent win streak, having prevailed in four straight races dating back to April, including the True North Stakes (gr. II) and Vosburgh Stakes (gr. I). The seven-year-old gelding has shown remarkable improvement this season, but he's also received great pace setups and has benefited from racing on muddy tracks. It's also important to note that he's compiled a 6-3-0 record from nine starts over the main track at Belmont Park and a 4-5-8 record from 30 starts at other tracks, suggesting that he is a true "horse for the course" that relishes the conditions at Belmont.

The three-year-old Drefong has also won four straight races, culminating with an easy win in the seven-furlong King's Bishop Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. He's got a lot of speed and has posted some fast six-furlong times, but he also got a fantastic setup in the King's Bishop--in fact, given his abundant speed, the race was practically conceded to him when he got an easy lead through an opening quarter-mile in :23.11. The Breeders' Cup Sprint will mark his first race since then, and also his first start against older horses, which will be a big test.

This brings us to Lord Nelson, who is unbeaten in four starts this year, including three grade I wins. Unlike Masochistic and A. P. Indian, Lord Nelson has been running primarily at six furlongs and has been a beast at that distance, running faster than 1:08 on two occasions this year. What I love about Lord Nelson is his ability to track an incredibly fast California sprint pace and still finish strongly--in the Bing Crosby Stakes (gr. I), he settled in third behind fractions of :21.16 and :43.73 before cruising past the leaders to win by four lengths in 1:07.65, just 0.05 off the fastest six-furlong time ever run on dirt at Del Mar.

On paper, Lord Nelson's most recent race--a win in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (gr. I)--wasn't quite as impressive. After tracking very fast fractions of :21.37 and :43.83, he moved up nicely in the homestretch to win going away by 2 ½ lengths, but ran the final furlong in just :12.62 according to Trakus.

But the numbers can't tell everything, and from a visual perspective, Lord Nelson looked great. He had to be urged a bit at the top of the stretch to reel in runner-up All Run, but once he got going, Lord Nelson strode clear in powerful fashion and seemed to have something left in the tank. Coming off a two-month layoff, I don't think he was at his absolute best, with the goal being to peak in the Breeders' Cup Sprint a month later. Trainer Bob Baffert has won the Sprint four times, including in 2013 with Secret Circle, who prepared for his Sprint win with a solid, yet unremarkable allowance win off a layoff. The following year, Secret Circle nearly won the Sprint again off an uninspiring third-place finish in the Santa Anita Sprint Championship (gr. I), again while coming off a layoff.

In terms of speed figures, Lord Nelson might be just a step slower than his key rivals, but he has a major advantage that few others can claim: a proven ability to handle the fastest of California sprint paces and still produce a finishing kick. I might change my mind during the next three weeks, but at the moment, I view Lord Nelson as the horse to beat in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, and a possible single in the multi-race wagers.

Now it's your turn! With three weeks to go, who do you like in the Breeders' Cup Sprint?


To help simplify the process of choosing and keeping track of everyone's prime horse selections in our 2016 Road to the Breeders' Cup Classic Handicapping Challenge, I would like to ask everyone to please submit their prime choice each week by leaving a special comment on the official blog page for the contest. This will greatly reduce the chances of any prime horse selections getting overlooked, and will also make it simpler to double-check the standings. Thanks, and enjoy the racing!


J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website

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