Hightail (inside) outfights favorite Merit Man to win the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint. (Photo Courtesy Eclipse Sportswire)
By Jack Shinar
Hightail, exploiting a slight opening at the rail in upper stretch, upset 1-2 favorite Merit Man in the $454,500 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint Nov. 2, giving trainer D. Wayne Lukas his 19th lifetime victory in the World Championships.
The 77-year-old Lukas, who has 10 more victories in the Breeders' Cup than his nearest rival, last took one in 2005 with Folklore in the Juvenile Fillies (gr. I). The race was the first of this year's 15 Breeders' Cup World Championship events held over two days at Santa Anita Park.
"It hasn't been that long," Lukas said. "They don't come easy."
Hightail, a maiden sent off as the 15-1 outsider in a field reduced to five by a pair of race-day scratches, inched past Merit Man near the sixteenth pole and held on gamely in the final strides under Rajiv Maragh as the favoite surged at the wire.
Stewards reviewed the stretch run after the two leaders bumped in the homestretch but ruled that Merit Man, ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, was at fault for drifting in on Hightail.
Hightail ran the six furlongs on a fast main track in 1:09.75.
"I just thought we had a great shot," Lukas said afterward. "These races (sprints for juveniles) are historically very fast up front. We're a good closer and I thought we had a shot."
As a result of the scratches, the second running of the Juvenile Sprint had the smallest field in Breeders' Cup history. The Distaff (gr. I), now the Ladies' Classic, in 1987 and 1996 were both run with six-horse fields.
Lukas trains Hightail, by Mineshaft out of the Storm Cat mare Stormy Renee, for major client Brad Kelley's Bluegrass Hall. Green Hills Farm bred the winning dark bay or brown colt in Kentucky. He was purchased for $345,000 at OBS in March.
Hightail was the most experienced runner in the field, making his ninth start with a prior win. He most recently ran sixth, beaten 2 3/4 lengths, in the Breeders' Futurity (gr. I) on Polytrack at Keeneland Oct. 6.
The complexion of the Juvenile Sprint changed when Super Ninety Nine, 5-2 on the morning line, was cast in his stall on the morning of the race was scratched by trainer Bob Baffert. Then South Floyd, trained by Doug O'Neill, was scratched by the stewards on his way to the gate. On-call veterinarian Wayne McIlwraith said South Floyd appeared to be lame in his left fore while warming up.
Hightail, starting from the rail, raced in fourth while saving ground as Merit Man broke alertly to get the early lead before coming under pressure from the British filly Ceiling Kitty. Merit Man led her through quarter-mile fractions of :22.41 and :45.94 before taking a one-length lead into the stretch. Hightail, advancing to third leaving the bend, rallied at the rail and courageously challenged the leader mid-stretch before getting his head in front.
In the drive, Merit Man angled in under right-handed urging from Valenzuela and the two bumped. Hightail inched a neck in front but Merit Man was coming back on the outside as they hit the line.
"I had a great trip, saved ground and just waited behind horses," said Maragh. "He showed a lot of courage coming through the narrow opening between the rail and (Merit Man). I was not worried about the foul claim because (Merit Man) initiatd the contact."
Hightail, who previously had a second and two thirds in maiden company, paid $32.80, $7.20, and $3.40 for the win, and topped a $50.60 exacta.
Merit Man, 2-for-2 heading into the race, was coming off a 5 1/2-length romp in the Oct. 6 Tim Conway Stakes at Santa Anita, formerly the Jack Goodman. He paid $2.40 and $2.10 as a prohibitive pick.
Filly Sweet Shirley Mae, who rallied from last after a half-mile, finished 2 1/4 lengths father back in third with Joel Rosario aboard. She paid $2.40.
Hazardous and Ceiling Kitty trailed.
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The connections of Hightail celebrate his Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint win.
Photo Courtesy HorsePhotos.com