The aptly-named Runhappy returned to a joyous Keeneland winner’s circle on a raw, soggy afternoon Friday after a front-running victory in the $250,000 Phoenix (G3).
The six-furlong dash, the oldest stakes race on the North American calendar, served as Runhappy’s final prep for the $1.5 million TwinSpires.com Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) over the same track and distance on October 31. Off this win, the three-year-old son of Super Saver figures to go off as one of the race favorites.
Forced to break from post 1 inside 10 rivals, the 7-5 choice was immediately gunned to the front by jockey Edgar Prado. Runhappy set splits of :21.52 and :44.81 while maintaining a one- to two-length lead over reigning sprint champion and 2014 Phoenix winner Work All Week.
Entering the stretch, Prado wisely shifted Runhappy farther off the inside path that proved deep and tiring during most of the card. Despite swerving in the run to the wire, Runhappy maintained a comfortable advantage and finished up 1 3/4 lengths to the good of 11-1 shot Barbados, who edged Work All Week for second by a nose.
Runhappy completed the sloppy course in 1:09.96 and paid $4.80.
“People say he’s a freak, he really is,” said Maria Borell, the young conditioner that trains Runhappy for Jim McIngvale.
This was the fifth win in six starts for Runhappy, who was coming off a four-length romp in the King’s Bishop (G1) at Saratoga, a race restricted to three-year-olds. However, the bay had beaten older rivals in his two previous races, allowances at Indiana Grand and Ellis Park.
Following an 8 1/4-length debut win at Turfway last December, Runhappy suffered his only loss to date in the Lecomte (G3) at Fair Grounds, where he finished ninth after being bumped repeatedly during the two-turn contest.
“He was training better going into this race than going into the King’s Bishop,” Borell added. “I expected him to do well.”
Runhappy now has four weeks to prepare for the biggest test of his life, and should stand a strong chance having up-ended last year’s Sprint winner Work All Week. That rival, who had to break from post 11, raced wide most of the way, which ultimately took its toll as he was unable to close the gap late.
The only other disappointment from a pari-mutuel perspective was 5-1 third choice Holy Boss, who broke slow and made only a mild bid for fourth after racing near the back early.
Older sprint stars Rock Fall and Private Zone now have a serious younger rival to contend with in the TwinSpires.com Sprint. A so-called freak, and potential champion.
(Runhappy photo: Keeneland/Coady Photography)