In Elite Power, Jackie’s Warrior, Whitmore and Mitole, the champion male sprinter Eclipse Award has resided east of the Mississippi for the last four seasons. California-based sprinters Spirit of Makena and Straight No Chaser are serious threats to put an end to that trend.
Saturday at Santa Anita, Spirit of Makena showed signs of being the real deal as he effortlessly took command at the head of the stretch under rider Joe Bravo and cruised to a 3 1/4-length win in the Grade 2 Triple Bend Stakes.
Making the win all the more impressive was the competition. Among those left in his impressive wake were major winners C Z Rocket and Forbidden Kingdom.
A powerfully built son of the brilliant champion Ghostzapper, the George Papaprodromou-trained Spirit of Makena is nearly unbeaten now in five career starts, having narrowly lost his second outing when stretched out to a mile.
Owned and bred by Bruce Chandler, he is getting better with each start. Saturday’s performance was his best yet.
The Bing Crosby (G1) at Del Mar in July and the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on the first Saturday of November at Santa Anita have been named as goals for the late developing 5-year-old, who won the San Carlos Stakes (G3) in March.
Those are the same two races mentioned as targets for another impressive sprinter one year his junior.
Heading into last week’s Maryland Sprint Stakes (G3), the MyRacehorse-owned Straight No Chaser looked like a horse on the verge of breaking through but had not proved it against strong competition.
Arguably the most impressive winner of them all over Preakness Stakes weekend, the 4-year-old son of Speightster had his breakthrough performance.
Going right to the lead on the main track at Pimlico, the Dan Blacker-trained runner could not have been more impressive.
Carving out splits of 22.44 seconds, 44.66 and 56.20 under rider John Velazquez, he ran his competition off their feet. Straight No Chaser kept it going down the stretch and crossed the wire in racehorse time of 1:08.27.
A 7 1/2-length winner, it was his second straight victory by daylight, having turned in a similar performance against allowance competition at Oaklawn Park on April 1.
As for a comparison, it’s hard to say which horse was more impressive in their big victories one week apart. They are different types of runners, but both look to be serious talents in their own ways.
Spirit of Makena defeated more accomplished horses, and the way he waltzed right on by the classy Forbidden Kingdom was eye-opening. BUt I’m not sure any horse in training would have beaten Straight No Chaser on Preakness Day.
Spirit of Makena and Straight No Chaser each have only four career victories, and the competition will only get tougher from here. So there is plenty to still be proven. But both are late-developing talents whom I could easily see as champions by the end of 2023.
After a four-year drought, the fastest guns in the West might be ready to reclaim the crown as the top sprinters in the land.