I believe it was Sun-Tzu who first talked about losing the battle and winning the war. A modern racetrack parlance of the famous saying might sound something like this … there is nothing wrong with losing the King’s Bishop, if you can win the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Replace King’s Bishop with Pat O’Brien, and the saying still works. For a pair of talented colts named Mentor Cane and Goldencents, many saw them as the horses getting run down in a pair of important sprint stakes this past weekend. I saw a whole lot more. I saw a pair of talented youngsters with all the sprinting talent in the world, who ran races, albeit in ultimately losing performances, that easily could translate to victory for one of them at Santa Anita on the first Saturday of November.
Mentor Cane, making just his fifth lifetime start, and only third in 2013, validated the kind of major talent that many have suspected was in the son of Mizzen Mast since impressing railbirds in the early morning hours of last fall. With the early speed to stay close to the blistering early pace of Let Em Shine through testing fractions of :22.34 and :44.60, Mentor Cane had the raw sprinting talent to take over the lead on Saratoga’s far turn. Tongue wagging the whole time, the John Shireffs charge looked large and in charge as he opened up his lead early in the stretch. By the time the 14-horse field had run the first six furlongs of the grade 1 affair, Mentor Cane had thrown down a 1:09.33 and held a four-length advantage. While never really stopping, he did succumb to the storming finish of Capo Bastone in the final furlong, but was able to finish well ahead of the rest for second place money. A little more experience for the quirky colt, coupled with this kind of six furlong ability over a glib Santa Anita main track, could spell big things for Mentor Cane come the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.
One day later, and across the country, Fed Biz came flying late to nail Goldencents to score in Del Mar's $250,000 Pat O'Brien Handicap. Much like the King’s Bishop, this one was a furlong longer than the six panels of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Unlike Mentor Cane, Goldencents has been there and done that. The Santa Anita Derby winner has converted to sprinting for trainer Doug O'Neill, and despite an 0-for-2 record since his return, the move to shorter races looks to be a rousing success. After a strong closing second, by a nose, in the six-furlong Bing Crosby last month, the son of Into Mischief flashed much more early speed yesterday. The only 3-year-old in the field, Goldencents chased fast fractions of :22.41 and :44.33, before outclassing the early leader. Just as Mentor Cane had done the day before, Goldencents took over, and looked like a winner after going six in 1:08.71 with a 1 ½ length lead. While Mentor Cane had his Capo Bastone, Goldencents had Fed Biz. The older runner kicked it into high gear down the lane and swept to a one length victory, with Goldencents gamely holding a working advantage for second on the wire. Certainly a second place finish to a track record breaking performance is nothing to feel bad about, but six furlongs at Santa Anita should only better suit the runner-up.
I really believe that while Capo Bastone and Fed Biz won their respective weekend battles, it is much more likely that it is either Mentor Cane or Goldencents who wins the Breeders’ Cup war. I believe Sun-Tzu would approve.