It was only this past weekend that I realized how weak this year's male sprint division is so far this year. The same could be said for the female sprint division as well, which has been left with a gaping void waiting to be filled following the retirement of 2-time champ Groupie Doll, but the male ends seems to be struggling more so. A division as a whole which once brought us the likes of Housebuster, Decathlon, Artax, Kona Gold, and Dr. Fager, now seems to be floundering many rungs below its old time luster, from the outside looking in at what used to be.
While thinking through who would win mid-season awards this past weekend, I came up empty once I got to the sprinters. I wasn't even able to come up with the top three of the division so far this year because of how scattered it is. After going through all the Grade 1 and Grade 2 sprints so far this year, along with their victors, I found myself more on the disappointed side following my findings. If there were to be such an award held midway through the racing calender, who would end up winning? Is there even a definitive leader in this division?
Below is the list of all Grade 1 and 2 sprint stakes run so far into the year:
G1 Carter Handicap: Dads Caps
G1 Triple Bend Handicap: Declassify
G2 Churchill Downs Stakes: Central Banker
G2 Palos Verdes Stakes: Wild Dude
G2 Potrero Grande Stakes: Big Macher
G2 RTN True North Handicap: Palace
G2 San Carlos Stakes: Sahara Sky
G2 Swale Stakes: Spot
G2 Woody Stephens Stakes: Bayern
I guess how one views this group of horses is mere opinion, but I'm not all too flattered with our top sprinters. Dads Caps, with a pace makes the race victory. Before last Saturday it was "Declassify, who?" Palace's ability to step up to Grade 1 status is yet to be determined. Sahara Sky appears to have majorly lost a step and may be in need of another rest, and Spot...well. Yeah.
Obviously the best of the sprints are yet to come further on in the year, but usually there's at least a clue of who the divisional leader is by this point. I eventually ended up on Bayern as the one to win the fantasy midseason award based off of his lone powerhouse stakes triumph, but, by the looks of it, sprints are not what's on the horizon for Bayern following Baffert's announcement of heading to the Jersey shore next out.
Of this bunch I see Central Banker as the one with the brightest future. I was thoroughly disappointed when he was forced to scratch out of the Met Mile and I do believe he would have hit the board. Declassify has the ability to blossom into quite the promising young sprinter, boasting a 3 for 5 record so far, but will have his plate full when facing the likes of Wild Dude, Big Macher, and almost assuredly, reigning Breeders' Cup champs Secret Circle and Goldencents later on in the year.
It's unfortunate that the male sprinter division is not what it used to be. Each year it appears to be losing a bit of momentum. The fact that the champion sprinter of last year was the only horse throughout the entire year to win two G1 sprints and that a horse coming off of only one race in the past 18 months was able to win the BC Sprint speaks volumes. Both Grade 1 sprints from so far this year didn't exactly boast Grade 1 quality entries. April's Carter drew a meager Grade 2 quality field, while last Saturday's Triple Bend was one of the weakest Grade 1's assembled all year, looking on paper a Grade 3 at best. We have plenty of fast horses, the only thing in question is the quality.
I look forward to what the remainder of the year may bring for all of the aforementioned horses above and I can't wait to see some duke it out multiple times and eventually (and hopefully) we'll see them all lock horns on the big stage at Santa Anita on the evening of November 1st. Case in point, while other divisions are thriving with an exceptional amount of star quality horses, the sprinter division appears to be dwindling. Here's to hoping one of those noted above, or a complete stranger, may pick up the shards, piece it back together, and run away with this division with no looking back.