11/05/2016 6:25PM

Drefong gives Baffert fifth Breeders' Cup Sprint win

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Emily Shields
Drefong, ridden by Martin Garcia, wins the Breeders' Cup Sprint by 1 1/4 lengths Saturday.

ARCADIA, Calif. – Trainer Bob Baffert appeared to be holding a pretty strong hand when entries were drawn Monday for the $1.5 million Breeders’ Cup Sprint, with two of the top contenders in the field, including potential favorite Lord Nelson. But Baffert’s chances of winning his fifth Sprint title suffered a major blow several days later when he was compelled to scratch Lord Nelson due to an infection.

Fortunately for Baffert, his “other” Sprint candidate was the speedy and steadily improving 3-year-old Drefong, who proved he was more than a backup for Lord Nelson by outdueling 8-5 favorite Masochistic on the lead before edging away to an impressive  1 1/4-length victory in the Sprint under jockey Martin Garcia.  

Drefong, a son of Gio Ponti, is owned by the Baoma Corp. He completed six furlongs over a fast track in 1:08.79 and paid $9.80. Garcia was a last-minute replacement for Drefong’s regular rider, Mike Smith, who opted to keep his regular seat aboard Masochistic.

Masochistic broke best, with Smith rating him just outside and off Drefong, who sped to a short lead nearest the rail after an opening quarter in 21.41 seconds. Masochistic gained a short advantage on the turn and was seemingly going easiest at that point, but Drefong would not be denied, responding to some vigorous urging to dispose of Masochistic nearing midstretch before edging clear at the end.     

Mind Your Biscuits, last, as expected, in the run down the backstretch, finished best of all, falling just a nose short of catching Masochistic for second money.                                                                                          

A. P. Indian had his six-race win streak come to an end after finishing fourth, 4 1/2 lengths behind the winner. He was followed by Limousine Liberal, a tiring Delta Bluesman, and Noholdingback Bear, who was eased to the wire after having his best chances compromised by a slow start. Like Lord Nelson, Joking was scratched this week.

“It really hurt losing Lord Nelson this week. He was doing so well, and it would have been nice to have him in here,” said Baffert. “But Drefong, he was ready to go. And it was a great time for Martin [Garcia] to reunite with me.”

Baffert and Garcia parted ways in April, just prior to the Kentucky Derby, before mending fences last week.

“Drefong broke with him [Masochistic], and Martin just let him ease up there the first part of it,” said Baffert. “When I saw the fractions, 21 and a tick, I thought that was manageable. Good horses could handle it.

“I could see Masochistic was bringing his ‘A’ game, I knew it was going to be a battle. About the three-eighths pole, it looked like Masochistic was going to have the edge on us. But this little horse, when the running started, he just brought it, and at the eighth pole, he showed the will he has to win.”

Baffert won the Sprint for the first time with Thirty Slews in 1993. He also won the race with Midnight Lute in 2007 and 2008 and with Secret Circle in 2013.

“Thirty Slews was the first horse I ever bought, for $30,000, and when he won the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Gulfstream Park, it was so exciting, I thought I’d reached the pinnacle of my career,” said Baffert. “I never had that feeling again until I won the Kentucky Derby. And it’s still a thrill to win any Breeders’ Cup race because there’s so much on the line, not only the money, but championships as well. Hopefully, this will put Drefong in the conversation.”

Garcia said he had no choice but to put Drefong on the lead after breaking from post 2.

“As fast as I was going, he was running easy,” said Garcia. “It looked like that other horse [Masochistic] outside went past us, and I just asked my horse a little bit, and he responded.”

Smith, who had ridden Drefong to three straight easy wins, including the Grade 1 King’s Bishop, said he thought he had control of the race on the turn.

“When we hit the turn, we were looking good, sitting perfect, but I know Drefong, he’s a tough son of a gun,” said Smith. “He doesn’t stop. That’s why I tried to put him away over there on the turn. I thought I did too, and here he comes again.”