In news that surprised virtually no one, Justify has been retired — making the question of which sophomore will rise to the top during the second half of the season a pressing as well as interesting one.
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).
American Pharoah comfortably holds off Keen Ice in the 2015 Haskell, his first race since winning the Triple Crown.
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.
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
Race 12: Betfair Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1), three-year-olds, one and one eighth miles on the dirt, post time 5:45pm EDT
GOOD MAGIC will be a heavy favourite in this race. It makes sense: he has tactical speed, a win at the distance, and a proven ability to run over an off track. (The latter may or may not come into play — but as of Thursday evening, Sunday afternoon’s chance of rain sits at about 55%.) The connections suit; though neither trainer Chad Brown nor rider Jose Ortiz race at Monmouth day in and day out, both have done well when coming to visit. The one question with GOOD MAGIC — and the reason it’s worth looking elsewhere given the likelihood that he goes off odds-on — is that despite his trainer’s stellar record off layoffs, GOOD MAGIC typically runs better second-up than he does fresh.
Instead, we’ll look to the minor upset with BRAVAZO. He returned well after a freshening in the winter, and though this is tougher competition than his seasonal bow at Oaklawn, it is competition against which he held his own through the spring. BRAVAZO has tactical versatility; he is fast enough to be forward, but can rate and rally if someone really takes it to ROAMING UNION early. The chance of rain in the forecast is a non-issue, given how well BRAVAZO acquitted himself in the Derby and the Preakness. The one question was his one effort at a mile and an eighth, a subpar effort in the Louisiana Derby. But, he had a wide trip that day, and ran well enough in the first two Classics to suggest that raw stamina was not his issue in the final Fair Grounds prep. At several times the likely price of GOOD MAGIC, BRAVAZO looks like a more appealing win wager prospect.
In this stratified field, the other two marquee contenders are CORE BELIEFS and LONE SAILOR, the 1-2 finishers in the Ohio Derby (G3) on June 23. Both of them have some off-track form, a positive with the chance of rain, and both have acumen at a mile and an eighth. CORE BELIEFS’s tactical speed gets him the nod. LONE SAILOR is classy enough, but he has this tendency to rally and not quite get there. Even though CORE BELIEFS rallied from near the rear of the pack early in the Ohio Derby, he is typically more forward. That style plays well at Monmouth, and he has been more a win type than LONE SAILOR so far. That’s enough to make him more attractive.
#5 BRAVAZO (3/1)
#6 GOOD MAGIC (6/5)
#4 CORE BELIEFS (4/1)
Longshot: This field is stratified — four horses who have been running in top stakes company, and three looking to break through. Among the ones who are looking to break through, #3 ROAMING UNION (10/1) appeals most. ROAMING UNION has sharp early speed, but can also run on, stay interested, and finish in the frame from off the pace if NAVY COMMANDER channels his earlier-career sprint speed and outjumps him. The mile and an eighth suits ROAMING UNION, as he graduated at Aqueduct over the distance and finished in the money in two other tries over the trip. The Monmouth course should suit, as he ran a good second last-up in the Pegasus and has fired a pair of recent local bullet works. (Outside-drawn GOLDEN BROWN also has some Monmouth dirt form, but needs to take a quantum leap forward to compete against this set.) Finally, the chance of rain doesn’t hurt ROAMING UNION’s case: his win came over a track rated good and he has a placing over a good track as well. Among the outsiders, he looks the greatest threat to nab a share.
You can take “Picks & Ponderings” with you anytime, anywhere. You can get Twitter updates @picksponderings for on-scene reports from Arlington International Racecourse. And you can get “Picks and Ponderings” in your e-mail by typing your email address in the box and clicking “Create Subscription.” It’s a FREE service, and you’ll never get any unwanted spam.