09/30/2008 11:00PM

Saturday's races to help sort Sprint lineup


The sudden retirement of Benny the Bull, the recent inactivity of several key members in the division, and a lack of experience over artificial racing surfaces by a majority of the top contenders has created an air of uncertainty about this year's Breeders' Cup Sprint. Some of the uncertainty should be cleared up by the end of racing on Saturday.

The six-furlong Sprint will be decided on the Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita on Oct. 25.

Saturday will be a defining day within the division, with four prep races having potential implications on the final lineup for the Sprint. Two of those four races are Grade 1 events, the Vosburgh at Belmont and Ancient Title at Santa Anita. A pair of stakes for 3-year-olds, the Grade 3 Kentucky Cup at Turfway Park and Gallant Bob at Philadelphia Park, complete the most important day yet on the road to the 2008 Sprint.

The Vosburgh will feature several leading Sprint candidates, including Lucky Island, Fabulous Strike, J Be K, and possibly First Defence. Lucky Island is an unexpected addition to the lineup as a result of a minor setback suffered earlier this week by stablemate and fellow BC Sprint hopeful Abraaj. Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin originally had penciled in Lucky Island for the Ancient Title and a test run over the new Pro-Ride surface at Santa Anita. Lucky Island would have to be supplemented at a cost of $300,000 to compete in the Breeders' Cup.

The Vosburgh will be a key test for defending champ Fabulous Strike, who dominated the race a year ago but had to pass the Breeders' Cup after contracting a lung infection. Plagued by foot issues this season, Fabulous Strike has started just once in 2008, an easy victory in Delaware's Vincent Moscarelli Memorial on June 21.

Conspicuous by his absence in the Vosburgh, but still a likely candidate for the Sprint, is Bustin Stones who is undefeated in six starts, although idle since winning the Grade 1 Carter on April 5. Like Fabulous Strike, Bustin Stones also has been dealing with nagging foot issues this summer.

Street Boss will be favored in the Ancient Title against a field that also includes leading Sprint contenders Idiot Proof and In Summation.

Street Boss could assure himself the role as favorite for the Sprint if he can add the Ancient Title to his earlier Grade 1 wins in the Big Crosby and Triple Bend handicaps. Street Boss has already won three times over the artificial surface at Santa Anita and, along with his fellow West Coast-based colleagues, should own a decided home-court edge over the majority of his rivals in this year's Sprint.

So will Idiot Proof, who finished second behind Midnight Lute in the 2007 Sprint at Monmouth Park and is the defending Ancient Title champ.

"I like the fact we'll have some home cookin' on our side for the Breeders' Cup," said Clifford Sise Jr., trainer of Idiot Proof. "The combination of the artificial surface and the fact we don't have to travel for the Sprint should be to our advantage."

Midnight Lute will bypass the Ancient Title and train up to the Sprint. If he makes it to the race, Midnight Lute will attempt to defend his title with only a single race under his belt in 2008, a 10th-place finish in Del Mar's Pat O'Brien Handicap on Aug. 24.

The Gallant Bob could provide Desert Key with a springboard to the Breeders' Cup. Desert Key showed a new dimension when he rallied from off the pace to a second-place finish in the Grade 1 King's Bishop. The Gallant Bob field also includes Lantana Mob, a rallying fourth in the King's Bishop, and Grade 2 winner Golden Spikes.