Imperial Hint romps to first Grade 1 success with easy victory
In the moments after the Grade 1 $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap, Javier Castellano was being interviewed on horseback when Imperial Hint decided to spook at some unseen force and test his Hall of Fame pilot's balance for a quick second.
Considering what the five-year-old had just done to his six rivals in the six furlong test at Saratoga, it was generous of the son of Imperialism to use all his spare energy to give his jockey something to do.
Castellano has racked up a country mile of top-level victories in his storied career, but few have come with the level of condescending ease his partner provided him on Saturday. Imperial Hint crushed his competition like a row of soda cans, drawing off to a three and three quarter length win over Warrior's Club under a hand ride that was even more comfortable than the final margin suggested.
"It basically was an easy ride," Castellano said, providing an understatement to go along with the emphatic effort.
It was the kind of breakout run the Luis Carvajal Jr.-trained runner had been on the verge of for the better part of a year.
Imperial Hint came into the Vanderbilt having won seven of his past nine starts, with the only real step backward being a sixth-place finish over a sloppy (sealed) surface in the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes.
He bounced out of that rare off-the-board effort with a win over Whitmore in the Grade 2 True North Stakes and had the full respect of the betting public Saturday, being sent off as the 4-5 favorite to get himself and his connections over the Grade 1 hump.
"When he runs, I always expect him to do this well," Carvajal said. "Winning here at Saratoga, this kind of race, it's my first Grade 1 for me (and) my owner (Raymond Mamone). It's just fantastic.
"That's the way I wanted to see him win. For Imperial Hint, it's great to have a Grade 1."
"I liked the way he did it the last time (in the True North), and I liked the way he went today, also," Castellano said. "He doesn't have to hook up with the speed. He doesn't have to set the pace, and I think now he can settle back a little bit and then he finds the last kick. (It was) very impressive today the way he performed. I could have opened up by ten, but he is a great horse, and I enjoyed the ride."
With Imperial Hint cruising as he reached the wire in a final time of 1:08.98 over a track rated good, the hard-knocking Warrior's Club came on to get place honors, with 35-1 longshot Sweetontheladies third.
Imperial Hint improved his record to 11 wins from 17 starts, with earnings of $1,210,155. He was second, beaten a length, in last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint, with a return engagement in that spot this year the main target again.
"It'll probably be (in) New York (his next start), we don't know yet," Carvajal said. "I'll pick a spot. Now I have to keep him sound and healthy, and hopefully I can go back to the Breeders' Cup. Probably right now, I'll keep him at three-quarters (of a mile)."