The 2019 running of the Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) at Saratoga is one of the great showdown type of races that makes racing at Saratoga so special. The race should turn into a battle royale between two of the giants in the national sprint division, and perhaps the horses who will be the two favorites in this fall’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1)Mitole and Imperial Hint. The Vanderbilt has drawn only a seven-horse field, which is a small select bunch in large part due to the two monsters that headline the race. ANALYSIS This is one of the races that makes you happy you are a Thoroughbred racing fan. Perhaps it’s a tough spot to be a bettor when the favorites are such complete and total standouts, but there’s nothing wrong with choosing two horses and standing behind them strongly in the exactas or exacta boxes. The Strike Power is a nice horse with a lot of early speed who could give any sprinter in the country fits, but ultimately, this race is a showdown between arguably the country’s two top sprinters, Mitole and Imperial Hint, and it should be played accordingly. Choose between a two-horse exacta box with Mitole and Imperial Hint, but you will need to bet a lot because the payoff will be low, or else take your stand amongst the top pair and play straight exactas to give yourself a shot at better profit. WAGERS $20 Exacta Box 1, 3 = $40 $20 Exacta 1 / 3 = $20 Here’s a brief look at the Vanderbilt field: MITOLE (#1) (1-1) is a true superstar sprinter who has burst on the scene in his four-year-old season with a meteoric rise to the top of the sprint division. Dating back to last year, Mitole has reeled off seven straight wins, crushing increasingly tough competition along the way culminating with back-to-back Grade 1 victories in the Churchill Downs stakes at seven furlongs and last out in the Met Mile (G1) at Belmont Park over horses the likes of McKinzie and Thunder Snow (considered by many to be perhaps the race of the year). Now Mitole cuts back to the true sprint distance of six furlongs here and gets back to what really has proven to be his best wheelhouse distance for trainer Steve Asmussen. He’s beaten plenty of good sprinters along the way, but it’s unsure whether or not he’s ever faced a sprinter quite as fearsome as Imperial Hint. Let the fireworks begin and let the best horse win! STRIKE POWER (#2) (6-1) is loaded with early speed and comes into the Vanderbilt off of back-to-back big BRIS Speed figures earned in an allowance/optional claiming win at Gulfstream Park two races ago and then in defeat by a half-length to the likes of Catalina Cruiser last time out in the True North (G2) at Belmont Park. Has been tough at a variety of distances, but seems to have blossomed since trainer Mark Hennig cut him back in distance to focus on sprints. Has his hands full with the top two horses in this race, but certainly has a shot to emerge as best of the rest. IMPERIAL HINT (#3) (3-1) is a fearsome veteran sprinter who has consistently been at or near the top of the national sprint division since 2017. Listed at 3-1 odds on the morning-line, and if you get close to that, which you won’t, you should run not walk to the mutuel windows. As it stands, Imperial Hint is a solid exacta box partner along with Mitole in this race. Second- and third-place finisher in the last two Breeders’ Cup Sprints, he crushed an overmatched field in this race last year and now looks for the repeat Vanderbilt win. Also a Grade 1 winner last fall in Belmont’s Vosburgh Stakes (G1). Veteran is as good as they get, but perhaps has vulnerability based on the fact that this will be his first race back since a trip to Dubai when he finished third against an international field in the $2.5 million Golden Shaheen (G1). Let’s see if he’s at his best for this race. If he is, he’ll pose the biggest challenge to Mitole that that horse has faced since his rise to the top of the sprint division. FIRENZE FIRE (#4) (9-2) exits a fifth-place finish in the extraordinarily tough Met Mile (G1) last time out after blowing away the Run Happy stakes at Belmont the time before at six furlongs. He’s a high-quality runner who gets Irad Ortiz Jr. aboard for this race for trainer Jason Servis, but really, throughout his career he has been a Belmont Park specialist who has been unable to duplicate his efforts at Belmont at any other racetrack. Does own a Saratoga victory and a third in last season’s Allen Jerkens (G1), but unless they suddenly decide to run this race at Belmont, Firenze Fire will probably need to settle for third-place at best in this spot. MR. CROW (#5) (15-1) exits a nice victory at Churchill Downs, which came against a solid horse like He Hate Me, who needless to say is still a couple rungs down the ladder from the likes of Mitole and Imperial Hint. Settled for second behind Imperial Hint in last year’s running of the Vanderbilt, and could get a small piece of this even if unable to turn the tables on Imperial Hint and/or upset Mitole. DIAMOND OOPS (#6) (12-1) comes out of a nice win in the Smile Sprint (G3) on the Summit of Speed Day card at Gulfstream. The quality level of the fields for the Smile has dropped in recent runnings and it’s now down to Grade 3 status, and this horse will need to show he’s not only capable of repeating that kind of effort from last out but also stepping it up an even further notch or two, which is what it will take to beat the monsters in this race. DO SHARE (#7) (15-1) is the outsider in this bunch, both literally and figuratively. Do Share is no slouch, with a win earlier this year in the Tom Fool (G3) at Aqueduct, but since them he’s been unable to make a dent against Grade 1 and Grade 2 competition. Go crushed by Mitole in the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) on the Derby undercard, and this shorter distance at six furlongs will certainly not help this horse post the upset at longshot odds. PHOTO: Mitole (c) Horsephotos.com/Cecilia Gustavsson