09/30/2013 6:09PM

Breeders' Cup Sprint: Private Zone gets an extra week off by going in Vosburgh

Tom Keyser
Private Zone (right) outgames Justin Phillip to win the Vosburgh Stakes and gain entry to the Breeders' Cup Sprint.

The close finish of Saturday’s Grade 1 Vosburgh at Belmont Park was pretty much a mirror image of the overall picture in the sprint division this season, with little separating the leading contenders for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint in the weeks leading up to the event.    

Private Zone outgamed Justin Phillip by a neck to win the six-furlong Vosburgh, which was run in stakes record time of 1:08.02, then had to sweat out a stewards' inquiry and claim of foul after the two horses came together nearing the wire. Forego winner Strapping Groom finished another 4 ¼ lengths farther back in third.

Both Private Zone and Justin Phillip will fly to California on Tuesday to begin their preparations for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint. Trainer David Jacobson said it was not totally out of the question but unlikely Strapping Groom would follow suit and ship to Santa Anita to compete in the Sprint.

[BREEDERS’ CUP 2013: See DRF’s top contenders]

Bahamian Squall, who finished a disappointing fifth while never threatening the leaders in the Vosburgh, is already guaranteed a spot in the Sprint by virtue of his victory earlier this season in Calder’s "Win and You’re In" Smile Handicap. He wasted little time returning to his home base at  Gulfstream Park, with trainer David Fawkes undecided about whether he’ll ship Bahamian Squall to Santa Anita early enough to have a work over the track or right on top of the race.

Trainer Mike Hushion said he was very doubtful that last year’s Sprint runner-up, The Lumber Guy, would return for the race after finishing a tiring seventh and last in the Vosburgh.

By shipping across country for the Vosburgh, Private Zone, will now have an extra week to prepare for the Breeders’ Cup than if he’d stayed home for this Saturday’s Grade 1 Santa Anita Sprint Championship. Owned by a partnership group managed by former rider Rene Douglas, Private Zone has now won both starts since being freshened following his unsuccessful trip to Dubai earlier this year.

"We were maybe a little concerned in our camp that he might regress off [the Pirate's Bounty on Sept. 4], but to move forward off that hard-fought race and come back with even more of a gutsy effort down the lane and prevail, we’re super pumped about him," said trainer Doug O’Neill. "And now we have five weeks til the next one."

Trainer Steve Asmussen said he was proud of Justin Phillip even though he came out on the short end of the decision in the Vosburgh.

“It was a tough beat at the hands of a very nice horse who has run some big races this year,” said Asmussen. “I thought the two of them did come together near the end although I believe both horses were equally at fault.”

One thing is for certain, Justin Phillip will go to post a decidedly shorter price in the Sprint than he did a year ago when finishing fifth behind Trinniberg at odds of 30-1.

'When I was training him up to the race out there a year ago I was thinking I was going to win it and he’ll return a much more consistent horse this year," said Asmussen. "We’re very fortunate to have him."

Fawkes said he does not believe Bahamian Squall handled the Belmont surface well on Saturday.

"When those types of horses go 22 and 3 for an opening quarter over a fast track like that, you really have no shot of catching them," said Fawkes. "But our colt never really seemed to level out at any time, he looked like he was jumping up and down going down the backstretch. My rider" -- Luis Saez -- "never really had much of an answer for me other than to say he ran kind of even."

The Vosburgh was the second of four "Win and You’re In" races to already have been decided along with the Smile. The other two will be run on Saturday, the Santa Anita Sprint Championship featuring the return to the west coast of defending Sprint champion Trinniberg, and Keeneland’s Grade 3 Phoenix. 

--Additional reporting by David Grening