When Greg Gilchrist traveled to central Florida to shop for racehorses in the spring of 2004, he didn't expect to buy a Horse of the Year. A respected Northern California--based trainer, Gilchrist, 57, didn't customarily play the racing game at its highest levels; he just wanted a solid, workaday 2-year-old. Instead, he found brilliance.
At an Ocala sale, using owner Harry Aleo's money, Gilchrist's bids reached $185,000 on a muscular, modestly bred colt named Lost in the Fog (because, as breeder Sue Seper explains, that's where she found the yearling one dewy morning). The highest bid fell just short of Lost in the Fog's reserve price of $199,000, but soon after the auction Gilchrist negotiated a private sale from Greg and Karen Dodd of Southern Chase Farm and shipped the colt west.
Since that purchase, Lost in the Fog is unbeaten in 10 races. He has won eight times in 2005, with victories at seven tracks in three states and earnings of $844,500. With a win this Saturday at the Breeders' Cup at Belmont Park, he should be in the running for champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year. But there is a catch: Lost in the Fog is a sprinter. All of his victories this year have been at six or seven furlongs, and at the Breeders' Cup he will run the six-furlong sprint.
The last champion sprinter to win Horse of the Year was Forego in 1974, but he also won at distances up to 1 1/4 miles. No pure sprinter has been deemed worthy of the honor.
What Lost in the Fog has done is thoroughly dominate his division. In his eight races this year he has trailed only once, and his lowest Beyer Speed Figure was a 102 in his season opener last January at Gulfstream Park. His last five races have averaged just over 110, and only once in his career has a horse been within four lengths of him at the finish. "He's fast and he's tough," says Gilchrist, "and he's just clicked along so well that it's scary."
The field for both champion 3-year-old and Horse of the Year (box, below) has been thinned by injuries to Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner Afleet Alex, spring wonder Bellamy Road and 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper, a 5-year-old. The chalk picks for Horse of the Year are Saint Liam, Borrego and Rock Hard Ten, who will meet in the Breeders' Cup Classic. They have a combined nine wins this year, albeit at longer distances.
"After he won the [seven-furlong] Swale Stakes last March, we knew we had a good horse," says Gilchrist. "But rather than rush him up to the [Kentucky] Derby, where he probably would have gotten cooked like everybody near the lead, we decided to see what there was in the way of sprints. We found that there were a lot of good races, and we've had the time of our lives."
Gilchrist promises that Lost in the Fog will run as a 4-year-old, and at distances up to 1 1/8 miles. "I believe he can relax and run longer than he has been," says Gilchrist. "And we're going to find out if I'm right." For this year, however, he's already done enough. One more win, and he deserves to make history.
• Read more from Tim Layden at SI.com/layden.
Too Close to Call
Here's a look at Lost in the Fog's competition for Horse of the Year honors.
YEA: Four-year-old filly has three Grade 1 victories in 2005. Second place or better in Breeders' Cup Distaff pushes her past Azeri as all-time leading money-winning female.
NAY: Only three fillies have won Horse of the Year since 1936.
YEA: Four-year-old colt (above) comes in with impressive back-to-back wins (Pacific Classic and Jockey Club Gold Cup) and hasn't run a clunker all year.
NAY: Those two races are his only wins in six starts since February.
ROCK HARD TEN
YEA: He's 3 for 3 as a 4-year-old. Victory in BC Classic would make it four straight, and that was enough for Ghostzapper last year.
NAY: The Breeders' Cup will be only his second race since March and his first outside California this year.
YEA: Five-year-old has three victories and a second in five 2005 starts, including wins in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster and Woodward.
NAY: Those three wins were all at nine furlongs.