01/05/2017 3:26PM

2016 Eclipse Awards: Drefong

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Barbara D. Livingston
Drefong won all four of his starts in 2016.

For Drefong, 2016 was one long holiday weekend.

In four starts, he won first- and second-level optional-claiming races at Santa Anita on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July, the King’s Bishop at Saratoga on Travers Day, and the Sprint on Breeders’ Cup Saturday.

His efforts have made him a finalist for the Eclipse Award as the nation’s top male sprinter. Like fellow finalist Lord Nelson, who also was undefeated in four starts on the year, Drefong is trained by Bob Baffert.

Somewhat surprisingly, Drefong, who turned 4 on Jan. 1, is a son of the distance turf specialist Gio Ponti. He was bred in Kentucky by Frederick Allor, Michael Barnett, and Anthony Warrender and was purchased by the Tanma Corporation of Susan Chu for $450,000 at the 2014 Keeneland September sale. Drefong races for the Baoma Corporation of Chu’s husband, Charlie Chu.

:: Eclipse Awards: 2016 finalists with profiles

Drefong was scheduled to make one final start during his 3-year-old season but became ill and was forced to miss the Grade 1 Malibu Stakes on Dec. 26 at Santa Anita.

“He had a little sickness,” Baffert said. “He’s back galloping now, and we’re going to get him back to breezing soon.”

Drefong’s first major goal of 2017 will be the $2 million Golden Shaheen, an about-six-furlong Group 1 on the Dubai World Cup undercard March 25 at Meydan Racecourse.

Baffert said he was unsure if Drefong would race prior to the Golden Shaheen.

“We might even run him fresh there,” he said. “I can do that with him.”

Drefong came into both of his major victories off short layoffs. The Grade 1 Ketel One King’s Bishop came eight weeks after an optional-claiming win. The TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint followed the King’s Bishop by 10 weeks.

“For the King’s Bishop, the track was deep that day and I was kind of concerned,” Baffert said. “I was relieved when he just skipped around there.”

Drefong set a somewhat moderate pace in the seven-furlong King’s Bishop and then came home well to defeat 11 other 3-year-olds by 3 1/4 lengths.

The King’s Bishop turned out to be a productive race. In addition to Drefong, three other King’s Bishop starters won stakes before the end of 2016. Noholdingback Bear took the Grade 3 Gallant Bob in his next start; Tom’s Ready came right back to take the Grade 3 Ack Ack over older rivals at Churchill Downs; and Mind Your Biscuits won the Malibu after finishing second in the Gallant Bob and third in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Despite the 70-day rest between the King’s Bishop and the six-furlong Breeders’ Cup Sprint, Drefong showed no signs of rust. He alternated on the lead with Masochistic to midstretch before edging away to a 1 1/4-length score under Martin Garcia. He was ridden in his first three starts of the season by Mike Smith.

The victory was the fifth for Baffert in the Sprint. He had previously won the race with Secret Circle (2013), Midnight Lute (2007-08), and Thirty Slews, who in 1992 gave him his first of 14 Breeders’ Cup victories.

Although Drefong has not raced beyond seven furlongs in his brief career – he is 5 for 6 with earnings of $1.2 million – Baffert has not ruled out trying him at slightly longer distances.

“If you look at him, he’s a beautiful horse,” Baffert said. “He might be able to stretch out. We’ll try as we go. He could be a Met Mile kind of horse.”