Few horses have been the subject of as much chatter as reigning Breeders’ Cup Sprint winner Runhappy has for the better part of the last year. After nearly eight months on the sidelines, the 4-year-old son of Super Saver made a statement on his own behalf Thursday over the track that cemented his championship campaign.
Jim McIngvale’s Runhappy, the 2015 Eclipse Award winner for champion male sprinter, turned in his first workout of the year Thursday when he covered 3 furlongs in a sharp :34 4/5 with trainer Laura Wohlers looking on.
The last time the racing community saw Runhappy, the chestnut colt was capping off his brilliant sophomore campaign with a 3 1/2 -length victory in the Grade I Malibu Stakes at Santa Anita Park last Dec. 26, an exclamation point on a year that had already seen him dazzle fans with wins in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint and Grade I King’s Bishop.
Plagued by foot ailments and bone bruising this season, Runhappy was vanned to Keeneland from his base at The Thoroughbred Center on Thursday for his first move since getting the all clear from Dr. Larry Bramlage at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital this month. After coming on to the Keeneland track at 5:30 a.m., the colt briefly tested the patience of exercise rider Marcus O’Donnell by stopping and balking in front of the grandstand but picked up his action when asked to get down to business, galloping out 4 furlongs in :46 and 5 furlongs in :59.
“He got used to people taking his picture over there, standing there all day,” Wohlers said of Runhappy’s initial antics. “I’m real happy with (the work) and I’m happier because he’s not breathing hard and he looks like he’s cooling out really well. That’s the biggest key.
“He just didn’t lose hardly any fitness with swimming and being turned out every day and stuff like that. I told (Marcus) around :35 would be nice. It’s just so easy to get him back fit, he’s an easy horse to train. He’s just a joy.”
As she watched Runhappy cool out back at the barn, Wohlers said the ease at which her charge completed the move gave her confidence he could make his long-awaited season debut in the Grade III Ack Ack Stakes going 1 mile at Churchill Downs on Oct. 1 with the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park this November the main objective.
“We always wanted to point to the Breeders’ Cup (Dirt) Mile this year and stretch him out,” Wohlers said. “We’d like to try to go to the Ack Ack if he’s ready. With that move today, it makes me feel more comfortable that I can get him moving forward a little bit quicker than I thought I could. I’m not opposed to sprinting him again, he certainly still has his speed, but we’ve always wanted to stretch him out.”
Wohlers added they would likely work Runhappy at Churchill Downs in the coming weeks to get an idea of how he handles that surface.
Runhappy’s training was initially slowed by a bruise to a hind foot earlier this year and when he kept coming back not quite right from training, a scintigraphy was performed that revealed bone bruising in his right front cannon bone in June.
In addition to hopefully having Runhappy’s ailments behind him, Wohlers is also looking forward to having less controversy around the barn. Wohlers and McIngvale — her brother-in-law — came under tremendous criticism when McIngvale fired trainer Maria Borell the day after the Breeders’ Cup win. While the court of public opinion was initially swayed toward Borell, she and her father have since been charged with animal cruelty in a case of 43 abandoned Thoroughbreds on a farm in Mercer County.
“You know, it’s about the horse and it’s always been about the horse to us,” said Wohlers, who was the trainer of record for Runhappy in his first two career starts and for the Malibu. “Whether it’s his health or his racing or anything with (Runhappy), he’s always been No. 1 to us. It’s fun to not to have all that (controversy) going on, but we’ve just been blessed to have him. We knew he was going to be a good horse from day one and it’s fun to see him come a long. (McIngvale) deserves a horse like this, it’s meant the world to him.”
Barring any further setbacks, Wohlers stated the plan is to keep Runhappy in training as a 5-year-old with designs on starting the $12 million Pegasus World Cup slated to be held at Gulfstream Park on Jan. 28, 2017. Bred by Wayne, Gray and Bryan Lyster, Runhappy has won seven of eight career starts with $1,481,300 in earnings.
“Assuming everything goes well, we have a berth in the Pegasus,” Wohlers said. “I go breeze by breeze, race by race, day by day, so we’ll see. But he handled this well today it looks like. He looks happy.”