If ever there was a local fan favorite going into next week’s Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland, $1.5 million TwinSpires.com Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1) candidate Runhappy would undoubtedly qualify.
From the first crop of 2010 Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Super Saver, Runhappy has evolved from a Midwest standout to a potential champion in a very short amount of time. His guide through this journey has been his 32-year-old trainer Maria Borell, a New York native who reportedly fell in love with the sport at the age of six and currently only has a few other runners in her care.
Undefeated in five starts around one turn (he endured a rough trip and exited the one-mile and 70-yard Lecomte [G3] in January with a minor injury), Runhappy is perhaps the most celebrated three-year-old Sprint contender since Lost in the Fog marched into Belmont Park undefeated a decade ago. Although things didn’t work out for that colt, who went unplaced as a heavy favorite in the Sprint, Runhappy will enter next week’s six-furlong dash with added advantages.
Unlike Lost in the Fog, who racked up a lot of wins and frequent flyer miles (and possibly fatigue) with coast-to-coast-to-coast blitzes, Runhappy has generally stuck close to home with only one significant trip out-of-region. That was to Saratoga for the August 29 King’s Bishop (G1), his stakes debut which he won stylishly by four lengths after breaking outside all 10 rivals.
He had preceded that victory with allowance wins at Indiana Grand and Ellis Park, the latter in track-record time of 1:15 for 6 1/2 furlongs, in his first two outings for Borell. (Runhappy had broken his maiden by 8 1/4 lengths at Turfway Park in December and finished ninth in the Lecomte for Laura Wohlers, racing manager and trainer for owner Jim “Mattress Mack” McIngvale).
With the Breeders’ Cup scheduled for Keeneland this year, the most suitable final path to get there was the track’s course-and-distance prep, the $250,000 Phoenix (G3) on October 3. Facing a field that included Work All Week, the reigning champion sprinter that had won the Phoenix and Sprint last season, Runhappy overcame a slow start, rushed up to the lead from the tricky 1 post, and held sway to win by 1 3/4 lengths despite having his saddle slip.
Once again showing an affinity for an off-track in the Phoenix (he also won his Indiana Grand allowance in the mud), Runhappy is well prepared for next week’s Sprint regardless of track and weather conditions. He’s overcome difficult draws in his past two starts, and, unlike Lost in the Fog 10 years ago, is a proven commodity against older rivals.
If there is one criticism about Runhappy it’s his tendency to break behind the field. Although the victim of some unfortunate bumps on a couple of occasions, at others times he’s dug himself a slight hole leaving the gate. His past performances note he broke 10th of 11 in his debut, and last of 11 in both the King’s Bishop and Phoenix. He wound up winning comfortably in all three, but at some point this behavior has the potential to become a liability. His connections have to hope it won’t occur on the biggest stage of the year against the toughest field he’s ever faced.
Borell has recognized this and had Runhappy work from the gate at Keeneland on October 14. Her colt got five furlongs in a snazzy :57.80, the fastest of 32 works at the distance.
“[The reason to work him from the gate] was just to sharpen him up a little bit, especially if we draw the dreadful rail again,” Borell told Keeneland publicity. “He broke a lot better today. I think he’s pretty good at this point.”
Unless he draws an unfavorable post position next Monday, this might be the only thing she and the rest of the Runhappy team will need to worry about.
(Photo courtesy of Maria Borell via Twitter)