2017 Haskell Invitational Preview

The breather after the Triple Crown season is over.  The first of the summer’s top races for the sophomore dirt route set happens this Sunday, and it’s also the marquee race for the entire Monmouth Park meet: the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational Stakes.  In addition to the biggest share of that seven-figure purse, the winner of the Haskell also gets a Win and You’re In berth to the Breeders’ Cup Classic, to be run November 4 at Del Mar.  It is the only automatic Breeders’ Cup Classic berth offered in a race limited to three-year-olds.

The race runs in honour of Amory Lawrence Haskell, who served as the first President and Chairman of the Monmouth Park Jockey Club.  Before lobbying for New Jersey to legalise pari-mutuel horse racing wagering, Haskell had a varied business career including times with the New Jersey Zinc Company, General Motors, and the Triplex Safety Glass Company.  During World War I, Haskell also served a two-year tour of duty with the Naval Aviation Service.

The race we know today as the Haskell began in 1968 as the Monmouth Invitational Handicap.  A different race bearing Haskell’s name, for older horses, began in 1968 as well; however, Haskell’s name was given to the three-year-old race in 1981.  During its history, one Triple Crown winner has also won the Haskell: American Pharoah (2015).  In addition, eight others have won the Haskell on the way to being named a champion three-year-old: Wajima (1975), Holy Bull (1994), Skip Away (1996), Dixie Union (2000), Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002), and Big Brown (2008) all got the honour among males, and Rachel Alexandra (2009) was champion three-year-old filly.  Point Given, Rachel Alexandra, and American Pharoah all won Horse of the Year during their Haskell-winning campaigns, as well.

Point Given battles down the stretch to win the 2001 Haskell.

This year, NBC will broadcast the Haskell in a telecast running from 5:00pm-6:00pm EDT.  For those who prefer simulcast feeds, the Haskell (just like all races at Monmouth) will broadcast on a free live stream on the Monmouth Park website.

Monmouth Park: Sunday, July 30

betfaircHaskell Invitational Stakes (G1), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:47pm EDT

This year’s edition drew a field of seven.  Though none of the Classic winners will contend the Haskell, a pair of Classic-placed horses will: BATTLE OF MIDWAY finished third in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and IRISH WAR CRY was second in the Belmont Stakes (G1).  This space likes one of these Classic-placed horses, and advises taking a stand against another.

Yes, the Haskell has been on IRISH WAR CRY’s map for a long time.  After all, the son of Curlin is New Jersey-bred, and owner-breeder Isabelle de Tomaso’s father is none other than Amory Lawrence Haskell.  He has the class, he has the stamina, and his best race should win this.  However, can one bet that they will see IRISH WAR CRY’s best here at puny odds?  No.  IRISH WAR CRY is buried along the rail, and he sent the only other time he got even a relatively inside post.  With BATTLE OF MIDWAY and TIMELINE in the field, there’s no guarantee he clears and gets the mile and an eighth gate to wire.  He would be a threat to stalk or track with a better post position, but buried inside?  Unlikely.  IRISH WAR CRY will be an underlay, and the value in this race comes from keeping him out.

As eager as this space would be to lay IRISH WAR CRY (were, of course, its author to live in New Jersey and be able to lay horses on a certain title sponsor’s betting exchange), this space will be happy to play the other Classic-placed horse in the Haskell, BATTLE OF MIDWAY.  Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer ships this one out of California for just the second time; the first time he sent this son of Smart Strike east, he finished third in the Kentucky Derby at 40/1.  He got a breather after the Derby, won the Affirmed (G3) easily on June 24, and now comes to the Haskell.  Though he won last out in frontrunning fashion, BATTLE OF MIDWAY runs at least as well from a stalking spot as from the very front.  The post is a bit of an issue, as he breaks from the 2 hole — right between IRISH WAR CRY and TIMELINE, who both show speed.  But, in both his maiden win and the Santa Anita Derby (G1), he showed that he could stay on well despite doing pace dirty work.  Should BATTLE OF MIDWAY stay around his 5/1 morning line odds, this space would be thrilled — and with IRISH WAR CRY and a pair of Chad Brown horses in the field, BATTLE OF MIDWAY has every right to present square odds.

Should the pace get a little too feisty, MCCRAKEN stands to benefit.  He beat an overmatched field in the Matt Winn (G3) last out, and steps back up to the big time here.  The question reains whether he wants nine furlongs — his only two starts longer than a mile and a sixteenth have been his only two losses.  But, MCCRAKEN was coming first off some ankle issues in the nine-furlong Blue Grass (G2) in April, and was also likely a bit short for the ten-furlong Kentucky Derby next out.  Here, he has been training and racing a little more consistently, and the son of Ghostzapper has enough stamina influence on both sides of his pedigree to suggest he should get a chance going nine furlongs under better conditions.  The Ian Wilkes trainee keeps regular rider Brian Hernandez in the irons, and Hernandez should have him going well late should the pace fall apart.

TIMELINE, one of two entries for trainer Chad Brown in here, drew the 3 hole — the farthest outside of the three speed horses in this race.  This race will be a class test for TIMELINE, a horse undefeated in four starts but untried at the top level.  Still, TIMELINE has proven that he can be forward, but does not need the lead.  He got a mile and an eighth well in the Peter Pan (G3) two starts back, and has the pedigree to suggest that was no fluke.  (That’s the big issue this space has with his stablemate PRACTICAL JOKE — the horse has plenty of heart, but likely does not want nine panels as much as others here, up to and including his stablemate.)  And, TIMELINE is the only horse in this field with a win over the Monmouth course, something he gained in the Pegasus (G3) last out.  The post draw and the try over the course give him an edge over IRISH WAR CRY for this third, more defensive spot…and it doesn’t hurt that TIMELINE will be the better price of that pair.



#5 MCCRAKEN (9/2)

#3 TIMELINE (3/1)

Longshot:  The only relatively poor race that #7 GIRVIN (6/1) has run was the Kentucky Derby — a race into which he came with foot issues, and one in which he encountered some trouble in a twenty-horse field.  Every other time gritty GIRVIN has hit the track, he has finished in the exacta.  New rider Robby Albarado will have options for where to place him, depending on how the pace unfolds.  GIRVIN has proven his ability to either settle midpack and rally hard or to run closer to the lead and keep fighting to the wire.  GIRVIN has also acquitted himself well in both starts going a mile and an eighth, with a win in the Louisiana Derby (G2) and a nose second in the Ohio Derby (G3) behind Irap, who then returned to win the Indiana Derby (G3) as easily as he wanted.  Sure, this space is still not a hundred percent convinced that GIRVIN stacks up with the best of the best in this year’s three-year-old crop.  But, between his tactical versatility and his good old-fashioned guts?  Getting a piece of the Haskell at a price looks well within GIRVIN’s grasp.


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