Mitole winning the Churchill Downs Stakes (gr. I) - Coady Photography

Mitole winning the Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) – Coady Photography

Handicapping Saturday’s $350,000 Alfred G. Vanderbilt Handicap (G1) at Saratoga boils down to one question. Can anyone stop the sensational #1 Mitole from recording his eighth consecutive victory?

Mitole showed promise as a 3-year-old in 2018, but he’s been a beast since he returned from a long layoff this winter. After an easy win in an optional-claiming allowance at Oaklawn Park, Mitole fired off consecutive victories in the six-furlong Count Fleet Sprint Handicap (G3), the seven-furlong Churchill Downs Stakes (G1) and the one-mile Metropolitan Handicap (G1). In the process Mitole defeated grade 1 winners McKinzie, Thunder Snow, Promises Fulfilled, Firenze Fire and Whitmore.

What makes Mitole so tough to beat is his brilliant tactical speed. He doesn’t need to rely on other runners to set him up for victory, and he’s perfectly comfortable sprinting to the lead or pressing the pace if necessary. And with seven consecutive triple-digit Brisnet speed figures under his belt, he has the speed to dominate against high-class competition.

It’s a little concerning to see Mitole draw the rail in the Vanderbilt. He risks getting boxed in early on if he breaks slowly, and even if he comes out alertly, he figures to be pressed from the start by #2 Strike Power, a fellow speedster entering off a runner-up effort in the True North Stakes (G2) at Belmont Park.

Still, Mitole’s pure speed and talent is such that a duel for the lead—especially traveling just six furlongs—might make little difference to the outcome. He’s already demonstrated the stamina to stay a mile, so six furlongs should be a walk in the park for this Steve Asmussen-trained son of Eskendereya.

If anyone can challenge Mitole, it’s probably #3 Imperial Hint, a five-time graded stakes winner who has finished second and third in the last two editions of the Breeders’ Cup Sprint (G1). Imperial Hint cruised to a 3 3/4-length victory in the 2018 Vanderbilt, though he did receive a great pace setup to defeat a softer field than the one he’ll face Saturday.

I’m a little concerned whether Imperial Hint will bring his “A” game to Saratoga. He’ll be racing for the first time since he came in third in the March 30 Dubai Golden Shaheen (G1) halfway around the world in Dubai, an effort preceded by an uninspiring third in the Pelican Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs. It’s possible Imperial Hint has lost a step at age 6, and when you factor in the long trip to Dubai, it’s hard to know what to expect from him Saturday.

This also makes it tricky to play vertical wagers like the exacta, trifecta and superfecta. Simultaneously playing Imperial Hint to hit the board and miss the board will dilute the likely meager payoffs generated by putting Mitole on top. The multi-race wagers are more appealing, since we can just single Mitole and move on.

But if you’re still interested in playing the vertical exotics in the Vanderbilt, here’s my take on a trifecta play keying the late-running longshots #6 Diamond Oops and #7 Do Share underneath. If one or the other capitalizes on a quick pace and rallies to finish in the top three, the payoff should be worth our investment.

$2 trifecta: 1 with 2,3,4 with 6,7 ($12)
$3 trifecta: 1 with 6,7 with 2,3,4 ($18)

Good luck!