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Monday, October 29, 2012
Merit Man clear Juv. Sprint favorite

Tracy Gantz



With fillies Kauai Katie and Beholder opting for the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies, Merit Man became the 8-5 morning-line favorite for the $500,000 Breeders' Cup Juvenile Sprint at Santa Anita Park.

Undefeated in two starts, Merit Man has won a maiden race and the Tim Conway Stakes, the latter by 5 1/2 lengths over the same distance and track as the Juvenile Sprint. Merit Man, who will be ridden by Patrick Valenzuela, drew post 3. Bob Hess Jr. trains the son of With Distinction -- Precise Strike, by Precise End, for Jim Glavin's Purple Shamrock Racing, Bob McKee's Double Kee LLC, and Bruce Chandler.

Super Ninety Nine, conditioned by Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, also is undefeated. He won in his only start, a seven-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita, and turned in a sparkling five-furlong workout Oct. 27 in :59 3/5. Martin Garcia will ride the son of Pulpit -- Exogenetic, by Unbridled's Song. Super Ninety Nine drew post 5 and was made 5-2 on the morning line as Baffert tries to take the first two editions of the Juvenile Sprint after saddling last year's winner Secret Circle.

What looked like an equal battle of the sexes, with five fillies and five males pre-entered for the Juvenile Sprint, became lopsided in favor of the males at entry time. Three of the fillies, including Kauai Katie and Beholder, either of whom might have been favored, defected to the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies. That left five males and two fillies to square off at six furlongs in the Juvenile Sprint.

The four other Breeders' Cup races for 2-year-olds are restricted to either males or females. While distaffers can compete against males in races for older horses, the Juvenile Sprint gives them the only opportunity to do so at 2.

Last year in the inaugural Juvenile Sprint, only one filly, European-based Shumoos, challenged the males. She finished second to Secret Circle. The Europeans have entered another filly this year, group II winner Ceiling Kitty, whose three wins in England include one against males, that on a synthetic surface at Kempton. Ceiling Kitty, at 12-1 on the morning line, drew post 2.

Wesley Ward trains the other filly in the field, Sweet Shirley Mae, who drew post 7 and is 4-1 on the morning line. She broke her maiden in the slop at five furlongs at Belmont Park, ran fifth in the six-furlong Schuylerville Stakes, and finished second in the seven-furlong Spinaway Stakes.