JULY 26, 2019–That’s our opinion anyway, and why we pegged Mitole at #1 in the weekly NTRA Poll.
Not many horses are undefeated in major competition in 2019 but that’s the record the Steve Asmussen-trained speedster brings into Saratoga’s Grade 1 A G Vanderbilt at six furlongs this weekend.
Following a routine score in a salty optional-claiming allowance sprint at Oaklawn Park, he returned on the Arkansas Derby undercard and won a highly anticipated showdown with Whitmore, the defending G3 Count Fleet titlist.
It was after that when Asmussen believed his runner was something more than a fast six-furlong sprinter: It was time to stretch him out a furlong and move him up to the Grade 1 level.
Moving up in class and distance has stopped many very talented race horses. But not Mitole. And his profile could have have been challenged more than by attempting to win the G1 Churchill Downs Sprint on the Kentucky Derby undercard.
For the first time in 14 months, Mitole was outrun for the early lead. Then a curious thing happened. There he was, relaxed and in a good rhythm beneath his regular, confident partner, Ricardo Santana Jr.
When ready at the top of the lane, Santana cut Mitole loose and he bounded away with authority and power. Neither the rise in class, or the rise in distance would stop him.
A star was born on Derby day at Churchill Downs–and it wasn’t a member of racing’s glamour division.
It was time for even bigger game. Mitole was entered in a storied Grade 1 handicap, a race that many consider the hardest test for an older horse to pass; a one-turn mile in which horses are expected to run full tilt for the entire eight furlongs against the best, fastest competition in the world.
In came the leading handicap horse in America at the time, Bob Baffert’s McKinzie. And in came Thunder Snow, a world traveler that has won everywhere on the planet, amassing record earnings of over $16 million.
Facing eight extremely talented rivals while asked to carry his speed a mile around one turn, Mitole was in the fray throughout, battling on the lead all the way through absurd splits of 22, 44 1/5 and 1:08 1/5.
And now he needed to prove himself. Could he hold off McKinzie? Would he keep Thunder Snow safe?
Hold them off he did, even if McKinzie had some trouble at headstretch before launching a fierce late rally that brought him to within 3/4s of a length of victory.
The timer stopped in 1:32 2/5, meaning that after all that pace pressure, Mitole still had enough to run a final quarter-mile in 24 2/5. Resultingly, a majority of knowledgeable fans and gamblers have called the Met Mile the Thoroughbred race of the year.
So, turning back to his best distance, the trip that made him a proven star, should be an easier chore, right? Well, in the immortal words of Lee Corso, “not so fast my friends.”
Turning back successfully into a sprint coming off a significantly hard, rapidly mile against fresher rivals is no given.
Breaking from the pole position, slow starts are more prevalent than from any other position in the gate because of the wider gap from the gate to the rail: Horses always tend to run to open space.
Finally, because it’s a handicap, he is spotting six rivals anywhere from two to nine pounds; the two-pound spot going to the very fast, very fresh Imperial Hint, the defending Vanderbilt champion with Javier Castellano who will have the favorite in view from slip #3 throughout. He has been specifically pointed to this race.
If we’re correct, if he is indeed America’s best race horse race, he will be up to the task as he continues on the road to his career finale on Breeders’ Cup day. If he’s not, he’s proven enough in 2019 already.