ARCADIA, Calif. — There was a twinge in Steve Asmussen’s voice as he screamed out from the rail at Santa Anita Park on Nov. 2.
“Come on Ricky!” the trainer repeatedly shrieked at jockey Ricardo Santana Jr.
The strain in his voice appeared to indicate at the very least a slight doubt that his standout sprinter, William and Corrine Heiligbrodt’s Mitole, might not get there in the $2 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1).
Pacesetter and slight favorite Shancelot (3-2 to Mitole’s 9-5), had skipped away from the field, and with a furlong to run Mitole still had a length and a half to make up. But the final sixteenth was owned by the Mitole, in his first true come-from-behind victory.
The 4-year-old Eskendereya colt surged to the front and hit the wire 1 1/4 lengths ahead of Shancelot, in a final time of 1:09.00.
“I had a lot of confidence in my horse,” Santana said. “He’s a horse I’ve been riding since he was 2 years old. I changed my mind today. A lot of people though he’d go to the lead. I took him back and made one move and got to the wire first.”
It’s not as if Mitole simply stalked the pace. Santana had the colt in a position he had never been in before—3 1/2 lengths off Shancelot’s opening quarter of :21.47. Other than the second start of his career, when he was 1 3/4 lengths off the leader, Mitole has been on the lead or at most a half-length back at the first call in every start, including three Grade 1 wins. Certified off-the-pace runner Firenze Fire was even ahead of Mitole at one point in the backstretch.
“We talked about just doing whatever was right for Mitole,” Asmussen said. “We have no control over who does anything or where they do it. Just be sure you’re happy with him and he’s happy with you, and the rest will take care of itself.”
Shancelot, who ran the first half-mile in :44.04 and was clear for most of the trip after some short-lived pressure from Matera Sky, still had enough left to easily hold off old veteran Whitmore.
“No complaints,” said Shancelot’s trainer, Jorge Navarro. “Look at the horse who beat us. He’s the top sprinter in the nation—probably in the world. … I’m very proud of him. I feel like a winner.”
The admiration was also flowing from Ron Moquett, who also trained Whitmore to a second-place finish in last year’s Sprint. Off at 19-1, Whitmore arguably ran the best race of his season to finish third with a closing kick from far back.
“He tries hard,” Moquett said. “He’s a good horse. That’s the reason everyone loves him—(because) he tries.”