'Like a slap in the face'; Imperial Hint moves on from vet scratch

'Like a slap in the face'; Imperial Hint moves on from vet scratch
Photo: Eclipse Sportswire

Trainer Luis Carvajal Jr., may never quite recover from the sting of having track veterinarians scratch Imperial Hint the morning of the $2 Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Santa Anita Park.

“It was like a slap in the face,” Carvajal said.

The 6-year-old son of Imperialism, a multiple Grade 1 winner, was found to have an irritation on the front left coronet band that the trainer said stemmed from the use of glue-on shoes. Carvajal believes the diminutive speedster known as “Little Rocket” would not have been at all compromised if he had been allowed to run last Saturday.

“There was no issue with the horse’s foot or ankle or knee or tendon or anything like that,” he said. “The horse trained every single day. He looked great on the track. I can say he looked probably 10 times better than some of the other horses who were in the Breeders’ Cup.”

Carvajal added: “I’ve had this horse since he was 2 years old. I know this horse from head to toe. I believe this horse was 100 percent right.”

Imperial Hint, owned by 87-year-old Raymond Mamone, was viewed as a prime contender in the Sprint. He placed second in that race two years ago and finished third last season.

Although Mitole was impressive in capturing the Sprint at Santa Anita, it only added to the exasperation of Imperial Hint’s connections to know that their horse whipped Mitole by 7 ½ lengths in the July 27 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) while setting a track record of 1:07.92 for the six furlongs at Saratoga Race Course.

“I do understand what Santa Anita is going through and what the veterinarians are going through,” Carvajal said. “I believe if my horse or another horse had a pimple on his body, they were probably going to scratch the horse just to make sure they were on the safe side.”

The misadventure ended when Imperial hint left California on Wednesday night and flew to Florida. He was to resume training at Tampa Bay Downs on Saturday, with his first work tentatively scheduled a week or so after that.

“He needs to stretch his legs,” the trainer said. “He is full of energy.”

Carvajal is looking to give Imperial Hint one more start this year, most likely in Florida. Another trip to Dubai is part of the plans for next year.

Imperial Hint has made four starts this season. He ran third in a prep race at Tampa Bay Downs before finishing third in the Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) at Meydan Racecourse. Then came his sizzling performance in the Vanderbilt and a gritty nose victory against Firenze Fire when he successfully defended his title in the Sept. 28 Vosburgh (G1) to gain fees-paid entry into the Sprint.

Despite the fees-paid entry, Carvajal noted that the travel from his base at Monmouth Park, N.J., triggered expenses that were not covered and placed a strain on his 15-horse operation.

“For some people, it would be peanuts, pocket change,” he said. “For us, when you add it all up, it is a good amount of money and you are not getting anything in return.”

Carvajal said he had met with Mamone earlier in the day and the owner reiterated his desire to run Imperial Hint as a 7-year-old so long as the horse is sound. Imperial Hint, a $17,000 private purchase for Mamone, owns 14 victories in 23 starts with earnings of $2,199,155.

“Things happen for a reason. We still have a fresh horse,” Carvajal said hopefully. “I think we’re going to have a great 2020.”

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