By Nathan Mayberg
Like an imperial star destroyer cutting through Star Wars hyperspace at light speed, Imperial Hint (Imperialism) has wreaked havoc at New York tracks. Imperial Hint fired at will on the lead in Saturday's GI Vosburgh S. en route to a sizzling score going six furlongs in 1:08.27 at Belmont Park.
“It's just so easy. So easy for this little rocket ship,” exclaimed NYRA announcer Larry Collmus as Imperial Hint cruised through the lane geared down by Hall of Fame jockey Javier Castellano.
That effortless demeanor in winning consecutive Grade I sprints has certified Imperial Hint as one of the most formidable horses heading to the GI Breeders' Cup Sprint Nov. 3.
The son of Imperialism has won all three starts in New York this year. He set off electric shocks in Saratoga when he dismantled his foes in the GI Alfred G. Vanderbilt H. by circling the field as if they were standing still. On GI Belmont S. day, he held off fellow millionaire sprinter Whitmore (Pleasantly Perfect) by a neck in the GII True North S.
His competitors haven't been giving away Grade I races to Imperial Hint either. The horse that set the pace in the Vanderbilt was Switzerland (Speightstown), who returned to romp in the Sept. 22 GIII Frank J. De Francis Memorial Dash S.
His trainer Luis Carvajal Jr. is looking to get Imperial Hint to improve on last year's second-place finish in the Breeders' Cup Sprint. Carvajal paid his dues to get to this point. He and his father, a former jockey in South America, worked as exercise riders for Angel Penna and Ramon Hernandez in the 1980s and 1990s. At Saratoga, they also worked at the track kitchen in the afternoons after arriving from Chile with the help of family friend and fellow countryman, Hall of Fame jockey Jose Santos. Santos and the elder Carvajal rode together in Columbia.
Carvajal's horse is in great hands with another Hall of Fame jockey. It was 15 years ago that Castellano won his first Vosburgh on Hall of Famer Ghostzapper. Castellano isn't prepared to put Imperial Hint in that class yet, saying Imperial Hint is “a little Ghostzapper.”
However, Castellano said Imperial Hint “has everything, the speed, the way he strides. He is a fast horse. You can do whatever you want with him.”
His versatility and ability to rate are among his greatest assets. Yes, he has ample speed, but where other sprinters are one-dimensional, Castellano can also relax Imperial Hint off the pace as he did in the Vanderbilt and Truth North.
Meanwhile, Carvajal describes his sprinter as a “fullback” whose small frame is a “little bit of an advantage to make quick changes. He has natural speed.”
The 5-year-old is getting better at the right time. His lone blemish this season occurred in Louisville on Derby Day in the GII Churchill Downs S. But that was in a bog going seven furlongs–perhaps a touch beyond his ideal range.
Imperial Hint is owned by Ray Mamone, who raced his dam Royal Hint, to two wins sprinting from six starts. She was by the low-profile sire Lahint, a full brother to 1991 Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Hansel. Mamone has owned Thoroughbreds since 1976, and said he is “numb” after Imperial Hint's latest victory.
Mamone almost didn't get to race Imperial Hint as he gave away Royal Hint to Shade Tree Thoroughbreds, a Florida farm where he breeds his mares. Mamone gave up the mare because she hadn't produced a foal in her recent attempts. But when Mamone went to visit the farm and saw Imperial Hint as a 2-year-old and was told the horse had talent, he purchased him from the farm for a modest amount (about $25,000 as Mamone recalls).
That investment has returned over $1.4 million to date.
The Somerville, New Jersey resident was able to get involved in the sport with the success of his auto body shop, but has never had a horse of this caliber. His most talented horse previously was Ray's Gift, who won the filly division of the New Jersey Futurity in 1986.
At 85, the Brooklyn-born and New Jersey-raised son of Italian immigrants has stayed in the sport by proving adept at the claiming game, though he admits “some years I lost, but not big.”
In Somerville, he is about an hour from Monmouth Park and a little bit more than an hour from Parx, where Imperial Hint has been based.
Carvajal has been training for Mamone since taking over from the stable of the late Robert Durso in 2007. Carvajal, now 46, was a longtime assistant to the New Jersey trainer.
Mamone said he was impressed by how Carvajal spent a month with Imperial Hint when he fell ill in Dubai last year with fluid in his lungs, forcing him to miss the G1 Dubai Golden Shaheeen.
Jose Santos, meanwhile, has remained close to Carvajal and has been watching Imperial Hint run since he broke his maiden at Tampa Bay Downs.
“He is a hell of a sprinter,” Santos said.
As a rider, Santos wasn't sure whether the horse will benefit from not having to be ridden to the wire in his last two starts. The former jockey paid a high compliment to Imperial Hint, making a comparison to a great sprinter he once rode, 1988 champion sprinter Gulch.
Everyone connected to Imperial Hint agrees that his heart is his greatest weapon.
“It's all in his heart,” Carvajal said. “He loves to run.”