07/01/2017 7:40PM

Imperial Hint's victory in Smile gives him BC Sprint spot

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Adam Coglianese/Coglianese Photos
Imperial Hint returned $3.40 in winning the Smile Sprint at Gulfstream Park.

HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. - The Cinderella story of Imperial Hint and trainer Luis Carvajal Jr. added another chapter Saturday at Gulfstream Park when the speedster ran away through the stretch to a popular and one-sided 4 3/4-length victory over Awesome Banner in the $250,000 Smile Sprint. By winning the Breeders’ Cup Challenge race, Imperial Hint is guaranteed an all-expenses-paid slot in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint on Nov. 4 at Del Mar.

Imperial Hint was in peak form earlier this season, his victory in the Grade 3 General George on Feb. 18 at Laurel earning him an invitation to the Dubai Golden Shaheen. But after making the long trip to Dubai, Imperial Hint developed a slight fever, which forced him to miss the race.

Carvajal gave his speedy star plenty of time off to recuperate from both his illness and the trip, training him up to the Smile at his home base at Parx Racing. Imperial Hint responded with a performance equal to or perhaps even better than the three easy wins that had preceded it.

With Javier Castellano aboard for the second time, Imperial Hint gave his connections a few anxious moments when trapped in behind and forced to steady off the heels of the pace-setting Awesome Banner, leaving the backstretch and around the turn. But when the leader drifted off the rail nearing the stretch, Castellano seized the opportunity, driving Imperial Hint through the opening, after which the 3-5 favorite drew off with complete authority to the wire.

Awesome Banner set the pace while pressured from the outset by defending champion Delta Bluesman, drifted a bit wide leaving the turn and proved no match for the winner while easily second best, finishing 2 3/4 lengths in front of Very Very Stella.

Imperial Hint, who is owned by Raymond Mamone, has now won his last four starts by a combined 16 1/4 lengths. He returned $3.40 after completing six furlongs in 1:09.23.

“It was awesome,” Carvajal said. “I knew he was doing really good, and I wanted to see him win like this. I was very confident coming into this race.”

Carvajal said he believes his horse does best with time between races and now that he’s guaranteed a starting berth in the Breeders’ Cup, he can back off him a little bit leading up to the race. He said he would look at the two Grade 1 Sprints this summer at Saratoga, the six-furlong Vanderbilt and seven-furlong Forego, as likely options.

Castellano said he was extremely impressed with Imperial Hint’s performance.

“Luis and I handicapped the race and we thought those two horses would go to the lead,” he said. “It worked out great. I was concerned a little bit when I asked my horse and he was running on [Awesome Banner’s] heels, it took a little while to settle in, but finally he switched off the bridle, and once he got through there I liked the way he finished. He’s a really nice horse and I think he’s going to improve a lot.”