Cordell Anderson (right) leads Runhappy into the Keeneland winner’s circle after the Breeders’ Cup Sprint
The much-anticipated wait for the return of reigning Champion Sprinter Runhappy ends Saturday when the James McIngvale-owned son of 2010 Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver makes his 4-year-old debut in the $ 100,000 Ack Ack Presented by TwinSpires.com (Grade III) at Churchill Downs.
Trainer Laura Wohlers believes that her sprinting sensation is coming back better than ever.
“He’s doing so much better than he was a year ago,” Wohlers said. “We’re all very excited. We’ve all been waiting awhile for it. We’ve had our setbacks with him this year but the time off has ended up being good. He’s come back so much stronger than he was last year.”
Such setbacks included a bone bruise on his front right cannon bone which put him on the shelf for 60 days and scrapped plans for a start in Belmont Park’s Metropolitan Handicap (GI) in June. Wohlers admitted to being a little concerned with Runhappy’s comeback but those doubts were put to rest when he resumed training this summer.
“I was a little concerned that he wasn’t prepared enough,” Wohlers said. “But he has been breezing real well and training excellent. With a nine-month layoff you’re always concerned but he’s just been doing so well.”
Runhappy’s 3-year-old campaign was a stellar one winning six of seven starts, which included victories in Saratoga’s King’s Bishop (GI), Keeneland’s Phoenix (GIII), the TwinSpires Breeders’ Cup Sprint (GI) at Keeneland and Santa Anita’s Malibu (GI).
Runhappy will stretch out to one mile in the Ack Ack, which is his first time beyond seven furlongs since his lone defeat in the one mile and 70 yard Lecomte (GIII) at Fair Grounds as a well-beaten ninth behind International Star.
“He doesn’t look like a typical sprinter,” Wohlers said. “He just has a nice fast stride and I think he’ll handle longer distances very well. In the Lecomte he was still real green, young and kind of figuring things out. But he’s developed very nicely since then. I think that he’s always been so fluid. If you gallop him two miles he doesn’t even take a breath afterwards. He’s got a nice, strong cardiovascular system which is very important to being able to go around two turns.”
“He’s got a good mind and he’s always been a nice-minded horse ever since we bought him. Sometimes he’ll get a little more aggressive during weeks like this when we’re preparing for a big race, but we’re really fortunate to be able to have a horse like this where people can come and visit with him and feed him peppermints because he’s so calm and gentle. We had a little meet and greet with him the week of Breeders’ Cup last year and he was just so mild mannered.”
Wohlers credits Runhappy’s groom Cordell Anderson for contributing to the horse’s calm temperament.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Cordell,” Wohlers said. “He never loses his temper with these horses and he’s literally been with this horse pretty much every day since October 2014. He’s at the barn all the time and so the more you interact with the horse, the calmer and more trusting he’ll be with you.”
Anderson, who started out as a groom in his native Trelawny, Jamaica, recalled the first time he laid eyes on Runhappy.
“I remember seeing him come off the trailer (at the Thoroughbred Training Center) and I said to myself, ‘Wow, this horse is a classic. He’s either Derby or Breeders’ Cup,’” Anderson said. “I saw something and thought that he had something written all over him. Runhappy is a good-minded horse and loves to run. I’m just here to help him along. I keep his confidence and keep him going strong.
“I am a calm person. I learned when I started working with horses in Jamaica that when you stay calm with a horse, they’re happy and have a good attitude and a good mind. I just think that God made me like that.”
Edgar Prado, who guided Runhappy to his career highlighted victory in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Sprint, will return to the saddle on Saturday.
The Ack Ack field (with jockey and morning line odds): Iron Fist (Robby Albarado; 4-1), The Truth Or Else (Ricardo Santana, Jr.; 10-1), Tom’s Ready (Brian Hernandez, Jr.; 8-1), Mr. Z (Calvin Borel; 12-1), Runhappy (Edgar Prado; 1-2), Schivarelli (Corey Lanerie; 8-1).
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