“We’re still leaning towards the [Dirt] Mile, but I want another day or two to see how it looks. I think six [furlongs] might be a little short.” ~Robert LaPenta
When I read that quote from Jackson Bend's owner a few days ago, it made perfect sense. A one-turn mile, with a fast pace, should be right up the little horse’s alley. So much for that, today he was entered in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint rather than the Dirt Mile. After the initial surprise, I took Jackson Bend off the board as my top pick in the eight furlong race, and started looking at him in the Sprint. You know what? I like him just as much in the race they originally called his second preference. I can also see a couple of good reasons why the decision was made.
Money is involved in all of life’s big decisions, right? While the $1,000,000 purse of the Dirt Mile is nothing to sneeze at, why not run for a half a million more in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint? Besides the extra moolah, there is an Eclipse Award at stake here as well. Considering the lack of consistent leader in the sprint division, it is a near certainty that the championship will be decided in the Sprint. So with half a million extra in the kitty, and a year-end championship on the line, it makes perfect sense for the Nick Zito trainee to run in the shorter race. Provided of course he has a similar chance to win, and I believe he does.
Mired in a 12 race long losing streak not all that long ago, Jackson Bend was a horse who clearly needed a change. Shipped north from Florida to rejoin Zito’s stable at Saratoga, his connections made the decision to drop the 4-year-old, former star back in distance for the seven-furlong James Marvin on opening day at Saratoga. It was like lightning in a bottle, as he rolled to an easy victory in blazing time over an excellent field.
Next came another stunning performance when he romped by 3 ¼ length lengths in the Grade 1 Forego. While both of these impressive wins came at seven-eighths of a mile, on both occasions, Jackson Bend made a decisive move that carried him quickly to the lead before the field hit the eighth pole. Or to put it another way, it would be hard to imagine that he would have been any less successful at the six furlong distance that he will run in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
After an excellent against the grain performance, in which he broke slow and made a huge middle move against a track bias, while finishing second to Uncle Mo in Belmont’s Grade 2, one-mile Kelso Handicap, Jackson Bend should have an excellent foundation for which to fall back on as the expected blazing fractions begin to take their toll on his competition at Churchill Downs.
Originally my pick for the Dirt Mile, I now firmly place my support for Jackson Bend in the Sprint. It’s not often that I would pick the same horse for two different races in the Breeders’ Cup, but in this case I believe he fits in both races equally well.