Imprimis' season can turn for the better in Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint

By Jennie Rees/Ellis Park
September 06, 2019 08:08pm
Saturday's Grade 3, $700,000 Runahppy Turf Sprint at Kentucky Downs will mark the first race for Breeze Easy LLC’s Imprimis since the 5-year-old gelding finished sixth in the Group 1 King’s Stand at Royal Ascot on June 18.

Trainer Joe Orseno believes the 4 3/4 lengths by which Imprimis was defeated that day would have been greatly reduced if not for one detail:

“Frankie Dettori got off him and said, ‘He was running, he was trying to get to them. He was just as good as them, but he was looking for a turn,’” Orseno said at Kentucky Downs. “He didn’t run his race and still got beat only four lengths.”

Imprimis will have navigating to do in the Turf Sprint, one of four Grade 3 stakes and five stakes overall on the signature card of the Runhappy Meet at Kentucky Downs, with purses totaling $3.88 million. The five-furlong King’s Stand might have been on Ascot’s straightaway, but horses in the six-furlong Turf Sprint soon after the start face a right-hand bend that morphs into a left-hand turn over Kentucky Downs’ kidney-shaped course. 

“He went from one extreme to the other,” said Orseno, who is at Kentucky Downs for the first time. “He had a straight race to ... what I’m not exactly sure. It looks like they kind of break on the turn and the whole race, a half-mile of it is a turn. So he’ll have plenty of turn. That’s OK. He doesn’t need his track to go with him as far as turf courses, soft or hard. He handled Royal Ascot. He just would have been better off it they’d had a little turn. If he’d handled the straight, he’d have been 1, 2, 3 that day. But how do you know? I’d never done it.”

Imprimis is the 4-1 second choice behind 3-1 favorite Leinster, winner of Saratoga’s Grade 3 Troy Stakes in his last start. Third at 9-2 is two-time defending Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint winner Stormy Liberal, who also is the reigning Eclipse Award male turf champion.

The Turf Sprint is Kentucky Downs’ first stakes to be included in the Breeders’ Cup’s “Win and You’re In” Challenge series, with the winner earning an entry fees-paid spot and travel stipend for the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint on Nov. 2 at Santa Anita.

Orseno’s plan calls for running in Keeneland’s Grade 2 Woodford in between. He found out afterward that Kentucky Downs is offering a $1 million bonus if any horse can sweep the Turf Sprint, Woodford and Breeders’ Cup.

“He’s doing well,” he said. “It’s been three months, and he’s got his weight back, his coat back. He feels good.”

Imprimis did not race until he was 4 years old, but he made up for lost time, winning seven of his nine starts before going to England. He won his first two starts of 2019, including Keeneland’s Grade 2 Shakertown over Kentucky Downs’ 2018 stakes-winners Bound for Nowhere and Angaston. Making that race more impressive is that Imprimis stumbled almost to his head at the start. Paco Lopez, aboard for Imprimis’ two victories this year, is back aboard at Kentucky Downs.

“We always knew he had the tools to be a good horse,” Orseno said of the Shakertown. “He proved it that day to everybody.”

As a Florida-bred, Imprimis is running for $500,000, the other $200,000 available only to horses born and sired in Kentucky. That still makes it one of the most lucrative turf sprints in North America. But one of the biggest attractions of the stakes for Orseno was its timing.

“The Win and You’re In is a little intriguing because it does cover a lot of expenses and you’re automatically in” the race, Orseno said. “This is a good three-race series to be in. I’m hoping that after tomorrow we’re the only ones eligible for the bonus. It’s a nice added incentive.”

The Turf Sprint attracted a field of 10, including 2018 runner-up White Flag and Totally Boss, winner of Ellis Park’s $100,000 Kentucky Downs Preview Turf Sprint, along with the 9-year-old $1.5 million-earner Undrafted, who will try to win his first race at Kentucky Downs in his sixth attempt.

Noting that Stormy Liberal and Leinster have the same mom, Vassar, Orseno quipped, “The family’s picking on me here. It’s a tough field. Mike Trombetta’s horse (Wet Your Whistle) I think is going to be very competitive, Rusty Arnold’s horse (Leinster) and of course Stormy Liberal is a champion. I think there are four very tough horses in the race, me being one.”

2019 Kentucky Downs Turf Sprint Stakes (G3)

 

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