01/18/2010 1:00AM

Kodiak Kowboy named top sprinter

Barbara D. Livingston
Kodiak Kowboy scratched from the BC Sprint because of illness, but won the Eclipse Award as champion sprinter.

For the connections of Kodiak Kowboy who made the long journey to Southern California in early November to watch their horse compete in the Breeders' Cup, the trip proved fruitless. The son of Posse had to be scratched from the Sprint five days before the event when mucus was discovered in his lungs following his final workout at Santa Anita.

But when they returned to the West Coast in January, their trip was far more rewarding, as Kodiak Kowboy won the Eclipse Award as the nation's premier sprinter in 2009. Additionally, Kodiak Kowboy was voted as a finalist in the older male division, a rare honor for a sprint specialist.

Kodiak Kowboy put together an imposing resume in 2009 that included three Grade 1 victories while banking more than $832,000 for his owners, Rick Porter's Fox Hill Farm and Tom Ludt's Vinery Stables. Six of his first eight starts and two of his four wins on the year were for trainer Larry Jones. His last two victories, both Grade 1 decisions, came after he was transferred to trainer Steve Asmussen's barn during the fall.

Kodiak Kowboy won the Grade 1 Carter Handicap, defeating Fabulous Strike, in his second start of the campaign but ran into some tough luck in his final two starts for Jones at Saratoga, where he finished third behind Fabulous Strike in the Grade 2 Vanderbilt Handicap and a late-striding second as the favorite in the Grade 1 Forego.

Asmussen assumed training duties for Kodiak Kowboy shortly after the Forego, and it was at his behest that Kodiak Kowboy was even entered in the six-furlong, Grade 1 Vosburgh on Oct. 3. The decision turned out to be a wise one as Kodiak Kowboy avenged his earlier defeat at the hands of Fabulous Strike with a come-from-behind half-length victory.

"We had considered scratching him from the Vosburgh because we didn't think we could beat Fabulous Strike at six furlongs," Porter said after the race. "Steve deserves all the credit for this one."

After winning the Vosburgh, and following much soul searching by his connections, Kodiak Kowboy was sent to California for the Breeders' Cup Sprint. The decision was all the more difficult because the Sprint would be decided over the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita, and Kodiak Kowboy had a relative lack of success over synthetics early in his career.

The risky but sporting decision to compete in the Sprint went for naught when Kodiak Kowboy had to be withdrawn from the event.

Asmussen brought Kodiak Kowboy back home and did a marvelous job getting him ready for the grueling Grade 1 Cigar Mile less than four weeks later. Kodiak Kowboy responded by outfinishing Bribon and Vineyard Haven to post a three-quarter-length decision and solidify his already imposing Eclipse Award credentials.

Kodiak Kowboy was retired following the Cigar Mile with 11 wins from 23 starts, 7 of them graded, at distances of six furlongs to a mile, and career earnings of $1,663,363.