11/07/2009 12:00AM

Want to beat Zensational? Catch him

Barbara D. Livingston
Zensational, training this week at Santa Anita, will break from the rail for the third straight time in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. "Obviously, we'll have to send him out of there and let him roll early," said trainer Bob Baffert.

ARCADIA, Calif. - Trainer Bob Baffert has won the last two renewals of the Breeders' Cup Sprint with Midnight Lute, who exploded from the back of the pack to capture the event in 2007 at Monmouth Park and again last year at Santa Anita. On Saturday, Baffert will attempt to win an unprecedented third straight Sprint with Zensational, a freakishly fast 3-year-old whose game plan is simple: Catch me if you can.

Baffert's bid for a third straight victory is one of several compelling stories in the 2009 Sprint which attracted a field of nine speedsters to battle six furlongs over Santa Anita's Pro-Ride surface for a $2 million purse. The starting lineup will also include Cost of Freedom, who was scratched by the stewards on the advice of the track veterinarians the morning of the 2008 Sprint; Capt. Candyman Can, whose co-owner and breeder Dr. Joseph Rauch died unexpectedly at his home in central Florida last Saturday; Fatal Bullet, runner-up behind Midnight Lute in last year's Sprint; and Gayego who has turned into a world-class sprinter after proving to be a major disappointment during the 2008 Triple Crown series.

"Midnight Lute and Zensational are very good horses with completely different styles," said Baffert. "Midnight Lute was a one-dimensional horse who ran from off the pace. Zensational is a one-dimensional horse who races on the lead. They're both one-dimensional but they're pretty great dimensions."

Zensational will bring a four-race win streak into the Sprint, the last three Grade 1 victories. He's never lost in five starts over synthetic tracks at a distance of seven furlongs or less. Baffert opted to forgo a prep race for Zensational in the Ancient Title and train him into the Sprint following his 2 1/4-length victory in Del Mar's Pat O'Brien on Sept. 6. Zensational has responded with a series of sensational works, capped off by a half-mile drill in 45.34 seconds here Monday.

"He's the kind of horse who is so fast I just wanted to have him fresh because he's really going to have to get to the bottom of himself and run like he's never run before in the Sprint," Baffert said.

Baffert confessed he was concerned about the fact Zensational will break from post 1 in the Sprint, even though he won both the Pat O'Brien and Bing Crosby at Del Mar from the rail.

"Obviously we'll have to send him out of there and let him roll early," said Baffert. "All the speed in this race is drawn along the inside, and if they hook up with him early, it could be disastrous."

The speed comes from Cost of Freedom and Fatal Bullet, who will break from posts 2 and 3, respectively.

Cost of Freedom was among the prerace favorites in the 2008 Sprint before being scratched the morning of the race. The decision enraged trainer John Sadler at the time.

"I don't want to make too much of what happened last year," said Sadler. "But wouldn't it be a great story if he could come back and win this year?"

Cost of Freedom has raced just twice in 2008, finishing fourth in both starts, including in defense of his Ancient Title championship.

Fatal Bullet set a blistering pace before proving no match for Midnight Lute in the '08 Sprint, and figures to press Zensational from the outset on Saturday.

"Zensational is on the inside of us, which is just what we wanted," said trainer Reade Baker.

A contentious pace would abet the cause of closers such as Gayego, Crown of Thorns, and Capt. Candyman Can, whose late rally fell half-length shy of catching Fatal Bullet in Keeneland's Phoenix.

Gayego rallied from nine lengths back to win the Ancient Title by 1 1/4 widening lengths lengths over Crown of Thorns, and Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor, believes the 4-year-old Gayego is capable of duplicating the performance.

"I think he can repeat his effort in the Ancient Title," said Mettee. "He's continued to train well and he'd had only two races off the layoff, so there's no reason to believe he's peaked."

- additional reporting by David Grening



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