Of the many major grade one races in the Sand Castle Festival the Golden Sprint may have the most intriguing match up. The six furlong race has attracted a full field of sprinters of whom thirteen are stakes winners and eleven are graded winners. The grudge match here though is a clash of 2019 champions – Three Year Old Sprint Champion Might and Thunder faces off against Older Sprinter Champion Outback Barbet. They have met up one time previously, in August’s Grade One Foregone where Outback Barbet finished second and Might and Thunder ran sixth in his first start against older horses. That race’s winner Learderof Rebels is also in this field and all three got better as 2019 went on. But make no mistake this is not a two or three horse field. There are a number of horses with a great shot. Let’s take a look at the field.
#1 Outback Barbet 6/1
Last year’s Champion Sprinter rates a big chance here. He is making his first start since December 21st which might be a cause for concern but in the past he has fired big off a layoff. That includes a win in the Breeders’ Bowl Sprint after a seven week layoff last season. The gelding likes to sit midpack which he did in his Breeders’ Cup triumph, laying about six lengths off the lead before unleashing a powerful kick to win by a length and a quarter. He followed that up with a facile win in the Grade Two Deep South Sprint, earning enough points to secure the championship. The five year old is a scratchbred son of War Front x A.P. Indy x Deputy Minister. He was gelded as a three year old when he was struggling in route races. He took six months off and came back in sprints and that as they say is that.
#2 Save My Ninth Live 16/1
This four year old scratchbred son of Super Saver x Storm Cat x Forty Niner has perhaps the most clever name in the field. He is looking for his first stakes win but he only has fourteen starts to his credit (that ties him for the lowest number of starts in the field) and he’s won half of them. It is surprising to see a horse with so many wins who has only tried two stakes races. The first was a residency stakes race at a mile and three sixteenths back in May. The second was his most recent run, the Grade Two Florida BB Sprint Championship. In that start he sat in fourth before making a big run and finishing second by a quarter length. He was just run down in the shadow of the wire and he ran a big 113 speed, the second time in a row he ran that number. If you believe that back to back speeds means a horse is ready to move forward this colt could be sitting on a big race.
#3 El Guru 9/1
El Guru is the other horse with only fourteen starts in the field. The four year old colt is by Speightstown out of an Unbridled’s Song x Deputy Minister mare. He is a half brother to a grade two winner by Mastercrafsman who was best on turf as well as a full brother to a stakes winner who was also best on turf and another listed winner by Distorted Humor who was best on dirt. El Guru burst on the scene last summer in New York in the Grade One Prince’s Knight Stakes on a good track where he won with an eye-popping 118 speed. He was only beaten two lengths in the Breeders’ Bowl and then took three months off before returning in February to win the Grade Two Pablo Cruz Handicap with a 121 speed. He’s another runner who will be sitting midpack early on. He has two of the best speeds in the field an even if he bounces a bit off that last run he still could win here.
#4 Alien Giant 9/1
Alien Giant has an interesting backstory. The five year old was a multiple stakes winner when he was put in the auction back in January. His new connections immediately ran him in his first graded stakes, the Grade Three Minister’s Deputy and he ran second by a length with a 112 speed. He followed that up with an off the board finish in an off track grade one. He had previously not run well on off tracks so that seems like a throwout race. The son of Giant’s Causeway out of a grade two winning A.P. Indy x Fappiano mare sits further back early on but has a solid turn of foot when the real racing starts. From ten foals to race, including a two year old of 2020 the mare Alien Galaxy has produced five stakes winners and four of them are by Giant’s Causeway.
#5 War’s Coming 8/1
War’s Coming is a five year old Pennsylvania bred son of Corinthian out of a graded placed, stakes winning War Front x Unbridled mare. He is her best of three foals. He is an interesting example of a horse who is a graded stakes runner as a two year old who continues on as an older horse. He won his first four starts including a grade two and was second by a neck in the Equinics at three. He spent most of his four year old season wracking up wins in local bred stakes races but he returned to the graded ranks in his most recent start. That was the Grade One Late Winter where he ran a strong second with a 111 speed. That race was on a sloppy track which may have benefited him but he was only beaten three quarters of a length after running in seventh early on. Can he get that elusive grade one in this spot? It is certainly possible.
#6 Leaderof Rebles 7/1
This regally bred son of Pioneerof The Nile out of a graded placed, stakes winning Medaglia D’oro x Blushing Groom mare is a half brother to a grade two winner by Malibu Moon. That colt was a very precocious two year old who was best at a mile. Leaderof Rebels was the complete opposite. After winning just one of four starts as a two year old and not running impressive speeds he was gelded. He returned to the races a better horse but his connections thought he might be like his brother – a miler. Dropped down to sprints he became a different horse. He won his first stakes race in May of last year and three races later became a grade one winner by beating Outback Barbet in the Foregone. Unfortunately he was well beaten by that rival in the Breeders’ Bowl and then finished closing thirds in two grade ones, costing him the championship. He began this season with a so-so fourth in a grade one over a good track before winning a listed at seven furlongs by a head with a smart 112 speed. He hasn’t had much of a vacation from racing in quite a while so there is a question about when the five year old may get tired but off his last start it doesn’t look like anytime soon.
#7 Varvar Black Sheep 14/1
Var is a top stallion in South Africa whose sim offspring include Champion Two Year Old Colt Ion My Way. His second best son is the five year old Varvar Black Sheep, a scratchbred with Elusive Quality x A.P. Indy for a backend. Varvar Black Sheep won two local championships at six furlongs last year. The first came in February, the second in December and interestingly he had no starts in between. He made his graded debut a winning one in January, taking the Grade Three Wicker Sofa Stakes by a length. He ran back in another grade three in February, closing to finish third by a length. From seven starts at six furlongs he has four wins and never finished off the board.
#8 Might and Thunder 10/1
The second 2019 champion in this field is Might and Thunder. The four year old gelding was the Champion Three Year Old Colt off three graded stakes victories including a defeat of older runners in the Grade One Double F Memorial. He was also second in the Grade One Malibu Sprint in December, putting him over the top in terms of points. He is one who has early speed but does not need the lead to run his best race. The son of Chivalrous out of a Thunder Gulch x El Prado mare was gelded after three starts as a two year old. Interestingly he was 3-1-2-0 in those races but perhaps his less than inspiring pedigree caused his connections to feel the need for the unkindest cut. He is the best foal for his dam who was bred back to Chivalrous in both 2019 and 2020. Neither of those foals has won yet but the three year old only has two starts and the two year old one. Might and Thunder’s only start of 2020 saw him run fourth in a grade three over this track. He tracked the early leaders in third before taking the lead at the top of the stretch and tiring.
#9 Uncle V.J. 9/1
Uncle V.J. is a five year old horse who won two graded stakes races as a three year old, the best being a grade two. His form last year was spotty with his best finish a win in a listed stakes race. He was on the board in three graded stakes, highlighted by a second place finish in the Grade One Lets Try This Again Stakes in December where he ran a 110 speed. Prior to that he had run a 115 in a conditioned allowance in November which was a career best for him. He has only one start this year, a tenth place finish in a grade two back in February. The son of Uncle Mo out of the graded placed stakes winning mare Vajrayana (Distorted Humor x Storm Cat) is the first foal for his dam and currently her only stakes winner. Second dam The Buda was a prolific stakes producer but never got a graded winner. Uncle V. J. may be last in the field early but when he’s on his game he can close well.
#10 Barney Barnato 15/1
Barney Barnato is one of three six year olds in this field but with only twenty two starts he has the fewest races of them and indeed he has fewer races than some of his younger competitors. He was a stakes winner at three and four and last year at age five he was twice graded placed. He’s making his second start off a very long layoff. He ran in a listed in August of last year and didn’t reappear until February where he was second in the Grade Three Shimmer Stakes. In his races last year he liked to be on the lead but in the Shimmer he was tenth of ten early on before making a late rush to be beaten only three parts of a length. Was that a strategic move by his connections or did the long layoff dull his speed from the gate? If he returns to his early speed style in this spot he may have a good shot to wire the field. He’s a son of Gemologist out of a Southern Success x King Kamehameha mare.
#11 Shiny Prospector 12/1
Shiny Prospector is a five year old scrartchbred by California Chrome x Mr. Prospector x Damascus. That’s likely a better backend than the Kentucky Derby winner saw in real life, although you would think it would signal that the foal would be a router. Shiny Prospector has never been a mile or more but when you are a grade one winner at six furlongs I guess it doesn’t matter! He earned that distinction last year by taking the Old Name in September before running back to be second in the Breeders’ Bowl Sprint. He had one more start in 2019, running off the board in another grade one in December. This will be his first start of 2020. He is another runner who has shown early speed but does not need the lead to win. In the Old Name he was in a tousle early on but was second before taking the lead at the top of the stretch and extending his lead towards the finish. He ran a 116 speed in that race, his career best.
#12 Hemp’s Dinero 13/1
Hemp’s Dinero was a good two year old who blossomed into a magnificent three year old. He won three graded stakes last year including a grade three at a mile and a sixteenth which briefly saw him try for the Bluegrass Derby trail. But it is sprinting where he excels. He was third in the Grade One Prince’s Knight on a good track after leading early on. He never tried his luck against older horses but he won his last two starts of 2019, a listed and the Grade One Malibu Sprint where he ran a whopping 117 speed. In the Malibu Sprint he took a commanding early lead opening up by five at the half and taking a four and a quarter length lead into the stretch. His opponents tried to make a run at him in the end but they could only close the gap to a length and a quarter and Hemp’s Dinero was geared down at that point. In his only start of 2020 he finished a tired tenth in a grade two after taking the early lead but not opening up by as much. Was it the tougher competition of facing more experienced opponents or perhaps a bounce off that big score in the Malibu? He’s a question mark for sure. He’s a son of Liam’s Map out of a graded placed stakes winning Giant’s Causeway x Mr. Prospector mare. From seven foals to race she has produced three other stakes winners.
#13 Nuka Monopoly 10/1
Another six year old in the field is Nuka Monopoly. He didn’t begin his career until September of his three year old season and it took him awhile to find his stride. He won his first stakes race over a year after his debut. 2019 was his best season which saw him take a grade two and finish on the board in two other graded races. He began 2020 with a listed win in January, taking the race with a 110 speed after closing from midpack to win by a half length. Nuka Monopoly has never had any kind of break in his twenty eight starts and he’s another who makes you wonder when enough is enough. His second start of 2020 came in another listed and he finished fifth after making a mild bid from ninth. He’s a scratchbred son of Hussonet x Deputy Minister x Pleasant Colony.
#14 Uncle Indy 15/1
Uncle Indy has the distinction of having the most starts and fewest wins of any horse in the field. The six year old scratchbred son of Uncle Mo x A.P. Indy x Tomo Rolfe has made the most of his four wins, breaking his maiden first time out and then taking a two year old grade two. At three he was a listed winner and last year he won a grade three in November. Through his career he’s also hit the board in a number of stakes and graded runs. That includes his only start of 2020 the Grade Two Pablo Verces Handicap where he ran third all the way around the track. He did tire towards the end and was beaten two and three quarters lengths. He ran a 106 in that start and his career best is only a 110 which puts him behind most of the field. That said he’s in top form for him and he could surprise at a nice price.
Good luck to all!