05/18/2017 11:36AM

A. P. Indian, Whitmore clash in Maryland Sprint

Coady Photography
Whitmore captured his fourth straight win in the Count Fleet Sprint.

BALTIMORE – A. P. Indian was the best sprinter in the eastern U.S. last year, ripping off consecutive wins in the Belmont Sprint Championship, the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap and the Forego at Saratoga, and the Phoenix at Keeneland. Trainer Arnaud Delacour plans to follow a similar path with him this season following the Grade 3 Maryland Sprint at Pimlico on Saturday.

“If he performs well Saturday, that is the plan,” Delacour said.

But Delacour acknowledges that the sprint division this year looks deeper than in 2016.

“They look like a solid bunch,” Delacour said. “It could be a tough summer.”

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The division includes Mind Your Biscuits, the winner of the $2 million Golden Shaheen in Dubai; Whitmore, who is unbeaten in three Oaklawn Park starts this year, including the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap; and Limousine Liberal and Awesome Slew, who finished first and second in the Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day. Sharp Azteca also is a player, while the 2016 sprint champion Drefong is being pointed to a summer-fall campaign.

The six-furlong Maryland Sprint is more difficult than you’d expect a $150,000 race to be, with Whitmore also in the field.

“He ran those three races at Oaklawn so close that I was going to give him extra time and go to the True North on June 9,” said trainer Ron Moquett. “But I believe in the saying that you run a horse when he’s ready. And he’s telling me he’s ready, so I think it’s better to run him than to have him kill someone around the barn.”

Whitmore finished second in the Rebel Stakes and third in the Arkansas Derby last year going long, but Moquett has raced him solely in sprint races since he was badly beaten in the 2016 Kentucky Derby. He is 4 for 4 in those starts and has recorded three consecutive triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures while winning his Oaklawn races handily.

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Moquett is targeting the same races as Delacour. It’s possible this is just Round 1 between A. P. Indian and Whitmore.

“We are planning an East Coast sprint campaign for him this year,” Moquett said. “There’s the True North, the Belmont Sprint, then the two races at Saratoga. That is more than $1.5 million in purses.”

The top contenders in the nine-horse Maryland Sprint also include Classy Class, Never Gone South, and Holy Boss.

Maryland Sprint, Race 9

A. P. Indian, by Indian Charlie

Last 3 Beyers: 98-93-104

◗ Now 7, he began his year with a runner-up effort in the Commonwealth Stakes at Keeneland. Limousine Liberal, who finished third, came back to win the Grade 2 Churchill Downs Stakes on Derby Day, defeating Commonwealth winner Awesome Slew by a head.

“The form of the race is solid,” Delacour said of the Commonwealth. “He had a terrific winter, and now it is time to get going.”

Whitmore, by Pleasantly Perfect

Last 3 Beyers: 100-104-102

◗ Moquett’s goal is to get Whitmore to the Breeders’ Cup Sprint at Del Mar on Nov. 4. While the True North, Vanderbilt, and BC Sprint are at six furlongs, the Belmont Sprint Championship and Forego are seven furlongs.

“Our horse should be able to handle either six furlongs or seven furlongs,” Moquett said. “I think it’s a great year to have a good sprinter.”

Classy Class, by Discreetly Mine

Last 3 Beyers: 100-93-97

◗ After being off from September 2015 to October 2016, he has rounded back into top form for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin and enters this race off a strong optional-claiming win at Aqueduct.

Never Gone South, by Munnings

Last 3 Beyers: 79-95-98

◗ Trainer Cal Lynch tried him on turf last out in the Elusive Quality Stakes at Belmont Park, but that experiment is over for now, and he returns to his proven surface.

◗ If the pace melts down, he should be coming under Maryland’s leading rider, Trevor McCarthy.

Holy Boss, by Street Boss

Last 3 Beyers: 91-84-93

◗ He broke an extended losing streak in the Duncan F. Kenner at Fair Grounds in January and has since faced Whitmore twice. He’s under the radar here but always tries hard.