10/20/2017 12:36PM

Ahead of Breeders' Cup, Imperial Hint proving size isn't everything

Taylor Ejdys/Equi-Photo
Imperial Hint wins the Donald LeVine Memorial last month.

The overachieving 4-year-old Imperial Hint will be Del Mar bound Tuesday for the Breeders’ Cup Sprint, in which he will be among the favorites.

Trainer Luis Carvajal Jr. will van Imperial Hint from Parx Racing to Newark Liberty International, where he will catch an afternoon FedEx flight. Carvajal plans to give Imperial Hint an easy work at Del Mar prior to the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Sprint.

Eight for 12 in his career, Imperial Hint has won his last five races and is 6 for 7 since September 2016. His 4 3/4-length victory in the Smile Sprint at Gulfstream Park earned him a fees-paid berth in the six-furlong BC Sprint.

Imperial Hint was not cut out to be this kind of horse. He is by Imperialism, who used to stand in Florida but is now in Alberta, Canada, where he had a $2,500 stud fee in 2017. He is the only stakes winner out of the mare Royal Hint, a winner of 2 of 6 starts. Imperial Hint is a small colt whose physical appearance doesn’t tout his ability.

Owner Ray Mamone recently turned down a $2 million offer for him from an international partnership that is based in Asia and races in the United States, according to Carvajal and another party who was involved in the discussion.

“From a business perspective, it was a really good deal,” Carvajal said. “But I do understand there are sentimental reasons why my owner wasn’t interested, and I respect that.”

Mamone goes back generations with Imperial Hint’s family. He bred and raced Royal Hint and her dam, Ray’s Trial. He also bred and raced Imperial Hint’s third dam, Ray’s Gift, and owned her dam, Castles Gift, a foal of 1976.

“He and his late wife watched all of those horses run,” Carvajal said. “This horse is kind of the cherry on top of everything.”

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Mamone purchased Imperial Hint from Bert Pilcher Jr., who operates Shade Tree Thoroughbreds in Ocala, Fla. Royal Hint had become difficult to get pregnant, and Mamone gave her to Pilcher, who succeeded in getting her in foal.

Carvajal was at the farm looking for a reasonably priced horse to buy for Mamone when he asked, “How much for the little one over there?”

The rest is history.

A 45-year-old native of Chile, Carvajal worked for Angel Penna Jr. and the late Robert Durso before going out on his own in 2006. Based for many years at Monmouth Park, he moved his small stable to Parx last fall. He and his wife, Gianna, still live in New Jersey, and Carvajal drives an hour and a half to Parx each morning.

Carvajal, who is 7 for 30 this year, said he is apprehensive about the Breeders’ Cup.

“I’m a little nervous, the clock is ticking way too slow for me,” he said. “I wish the Breeders’ Cup was tomorrow. For the big guys, a race like this is normal, I guess. For a guy like me, it is a little different.”

Imperial Hint gave Carvajal his first graded win when he led throughout the Grade 3 General George at Laurel Park in February. That race earned Imperial Hint an invitation to the $2 million Golden Shaheen on World Cup Night at Meydan. But after making the trip, Imperial Hint came down with pneumonia.

Carvajal stayed in Dubai for a month until Imperial Hint was well enough to come home. The Dubai journey cost Imperial Hint much of the year. He did not start again until July in the Smile Sprint.

Imperial Hint tuned up for the Breeders’ Cup with an easy Labor Day victory in the $100,000 Donald LeVine Memorial at Parx. Imperial Hint runs well fresh, and Carvajal thinks the 8 1/2 weeks between races is perfect for him.

Imperial Hint earned a lifetime-best 109 Beyer Speed Figure in the LeVine Memorial. He has worked three times since, including a bullet half-mile in 46.74 seconds on Oct. 5 and five furlongs in 58.50 on Oct. 13. He is scheduled to work again Saturday before he heads west.

“He’s doing really good,” Carvajal said. “My horse just needs to keep going like he is now. I think he has a really good shot.”

Although the Breeders’ Cup would cap an amazing season, Carvajal believes Imperial Hint’s best days may lie ahead.

“He’s very sound, he’s young, and I have gone easy with him,” Carvajal said. “I think he still has a lot to give.”