09/24/2008 12:00AM

Extra distance no worry for Mr. Nightlinger


When North American horseplayers think "turf sprint," they usually think of a grass race at 5 or 5 1/2 furlongs. But given the unique layout of the Santa Anita turf track, the first two runnings of the $1 million Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint (2008 and 2009) will be run at 6 1/2 furlongs on the famed downhill course.

The extra distance may not look like much, but with most turf-sprint specialists accustomed to short dashes, the possibility certainly exists that the inaugural BC Sprint on Oct. 25 will look enticing to come-from-behinders trying taking advantage of the additional ground.

Four weeks before the Breeders' Cup, the top-ranked contender for the Turf Sprint is Mr. Nightlinger, a Midwest-based colt who has led all the way in winning his last five starts, all in turf sprints. In his most recent race, Mr. Nightlinger won the Aug. 23 Arlington Sprint at 5 1/2 furlongs.

"I don't think the distance itself is a big issue for us, because I think this horse could run up to a mile," trainer Bret Calhoun said.

Calhoun said his main concern is the nine weeks between races.

"I thought about running him once more, but we really want to get to the Breeders' Cup with a fresh horse," he said.

With a limit of 14 starters, the Turf Sprint appears certain to be oversubscribed. Not only are there a handful of proven prospects from each of the various regions in the United States, but the Turf Sprint also should attract horses from other categories, such as Europeans, turf turnbacks, and dirt/synthetic transfers.

One such possibility to turn back from longer races is Buffalo Man, depending on how he fares in the Oct. 4 Shadwell Mile on the Keeneland turf.

"The [Breeders' Cup] Mile is our main goal right now, with the Turf Sprint our second option, but you'd have to think about turning back if a mile's not quite right," said Clint Glasscock, a co-owner in Buffalo Man.