Limato has had star quality from day one in Great Britain. If the gifted sprinter takes to the Breeders’ Cup Mile (G1) as well as I think he will, he’ll become a celebrity on world stage.
His trainer, Henry Candy, isn’t a household name in North America, but he’s compiled a successful career spanning four decades. His past pupils include the great mare Time Charter and Master Willie, and in recent years, he’s had such notable sprinters as Kyllachy, Airwave, and this summer’s Diamond Jubilee (G1) hero Twilight Son.
If it hadn’t been a wet Royal Ascot, Limato might have added another big win to the resume. He requires a better surface, however, so he didn’t get his chance to take on Tepin in a soggy Queen Anne (G1). At Santa Anita, we’ll get the eagerly anticipated showdown.
By Tagula, the sire of one of the better milers of recent years in Canford Cliffs, Limato went unbeaten as a juvenile – and looked a class apart every time. He capped his four-race campaign with a laugher in the 2014 Redcar Two-Year-Old Trophy. Watch how Limato emerges from the pack under a hold, and wins unextended:
Sticking to the sprinting game at three, Limato made it five in a row in the Pavilion (G3) at Ascot. He suffered his first loss when runner-up in the Sandy Lane (G2), and Candy reportedly feared that maybe the smallish gelding peaked at two.
But Limato would put those thoughts to rest with three top-level performances, although two came in defeat. In the 2015 Commonwealth Cup (G1) at Royal Ascot, he was best of the rest behind the flying Muhaarar, who would run the table versus older horses for the rest of the year. You don’t need to understand the Arabic racecall to see how well he ran:
Limato stepped up in trip to seven furlongs in the Park S. (G2) during Doncaster’s St Leger Festival, and the added ground made him a different animal. Humbling a group of older usual suspects, he showed a dazzling set of gears to slice through the pack and open up on them all the way to the line.
That made him the even-money favorite for the Prix de la Foret (G1) over the same distance on Arc Day. Unfortunately, Limato broke a beat slow and found himself too far back early on a course that was favoring forwardly placed runners. He finished with a flourish to take second to Make Believe in course-record time.
Off that evidence, Limato merited a crack at a mile in 2016. Candy decided to try that distance in his reappearance in the May 14 Lockinge (G1) at Newbury, where he checked in an inconclusive fourth. Skeptics would say that he was flat-footed over a mile. But the ground had more residual moisture than he cares for, and Candy’s horses were all below par at the time. That remains the only time in his career he was ever out of the top two.
Limato had to keep his powder dry waiting for suitable ground. Having missed both of his possible objectives at Royal Ascot, his moment came at last in the six-furlong July Cup (G1) at Newmarket. He simply ripped apart the field in a display of ruthless dominance you don’t usually see over that trip.
Given his ability to travel at high speed and quicken, Candy wanted to give him an opportunity against five-furlong specialists in the Nunthorpe (G1) at York. For a horse whose biggest wins had come over six and seven furlongs, dropping back to Britain’s minimum trip was an audacious thing to do. And he nearly pulled it off, beating all bar reigning Nunthorpe queen Mecca’s Angel, who clocked :56.24 in her repeat win. In the context of the European sprinting division, Limato underscored how exceptional a performer he is.
Limato returned to arguably his pet distance of seven furlongs for another attempt at the Foret on Arc Day, and this time, he broke well and put himself in a perfect stalking position. From there, he was always going to outclass the opposition. His time was a sprightly 1:21.83 around Chantilly.
The Foret has been a stepping stone for Breeders’ Cup Mile winners Goldikova (2009-10) and Karakontie (2014). But more pointedly for Limato’s chances, European sprinters have handled the Mile if they’re classy enough. Last Tycoon, who won the William Hill Sprint Championship (aka Nunthorpe) in 1986, carried his speed in the Mile right here at Santa Anita. And Royal Academy, the 1990 July Cup hero, famously won that fall’s Mile at Belmont for the legendary duo of Vincent O’Brien and Lester Piggott.
Limato certainly measures up from a talent and class perspective. On pedigree, a mile should be well within his scope. He’s out of a Singspiel mare, and his second dam is a full sister to 1999 Eclipse (G1) winner Compton Admiral and a half-sister to 2001 Queen Elizabeth II (G1) upsetter Summoner. Also in the immediate family is multiple Group 1-winning highweight The Fugue, who suffered agonizing Breeders’ Cup losses in the 2012 Filly & Mare Turf (G1) and 2013 Turf (G1), both at Santa Anita.
Between his pedigree, running style, and seven-furlong performances, I don’t see why he couldn’t be as effective at a mile. But even if you take the dimmest view of his loss in the Lockinge, and regard it as an indictment, consider that was down a straight mile. A turning mile on firm ground doesn’t require the same degree of stamina. You need speed around Santa Anita, and he’s got that in spades.
Photo by Frank Sorge/Horsephotos.com