01/05/2018 12:16PM

2017 Eclipse Awards: Imperial Hint

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For trainer Luis Carvajal Jr., 2017 began with hope and ended with Imperial Hint being voted an Eclipse Awards finalist in the male sprint division.

In his final start as a 3-year-old in 2016, Imperial Hint won an optional-claiming race at Parx Racing. The victory left Carvajal encouraged.

“I was waiting for the horse to develop the way I thought he would,” Carvajal said. “I thought he had a lot more to give as he continued to mature.”

A diminutive Florida-bred son of Imperialism, Imperial Hint would go on to win four of five starts in 2017, with his only loss coming in the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar. Imperial Hint held a clear lead into the stretch, but Roy H proved too strong and beat him by a length.

“Of course, I would have loved to win, but I think my horse ran like a champion,” Carvajal said. “He showed everyone he belongs with the big guys.”

Carvajal, 45, came to the United States from Chile in 1988. He worked five years for Angel Penna Jr. and another 10 with Robert Durso. After going out on his own in 2007, he started last season with a handful of horses. His stable has grown, and he is currently stabled at Tampa Bay Downs.

“I think in the Breeders’ Cup I was probably representing every other trainer with a small barn in the U.S., that everyone was thinking, ‘That could be me,’ ” Carvajal said, “I mean that’s why we all do this – in the hope of getting a top horse.”

Imperial Hint was bred by the Shade Tree Thoroughbreds of Bert Pilcher Jr. and is owned by Raymond Mamone. He is out of the mare Royal Hint, whom Mamone bred and raced. When she became difficult to get into foal, Mamone gave Royal Hint to Pilcher.

Carvajal was looking for a reasonably priced horse to buy for Mamone when he came upon Imperial Hint at Shade Tree. “How much for the little one?” he asked. Mamone ended up purchasing a horse produced by his own mare.

Imperial Hint began the season with wins at Laurel Park in the Fire Plug Stakes and the Grade 3, $250,000 General George. The victories earned him an invitation to the $2 million Golden Shaheen at Meydan.

Unfortunately, Imperial Hint came down with pneumonia after arriving in Dubai. Carvajal stayed in Dubai for a month until Imperial Hint was well enough to travel.

“Being there and not being able to run, it was hard,” Carvajal said. “But even if it would have taken two or three months, I would have stayed with him.”

Imperial Hint earned a Win and You’re In berth to the Breeders’ Cup by taking the Grade 3 Smile Sprint at Gulfstream Park under Javier Castellano, who would remain his rider the rest of the year. He tuned up for the Breeders’ Cup with an easy score in the Donald LeVine Memorial at Parx.

Carvajal plans to race Imperial Hint at Tampa before testing deeper waters. A return trip to Dubai is not out of the question.

“If we have the option to go back to Dubai, it is something we will talk about very seriously,” Carvajal said. “We will see what is best for the horse.”