A Look at the Haskell Invitees
By John Piassek
It’s July now, which means only one thing: the Haskell is near! Monmouth Park’s signature race will feature some of the best three-year-olds in the country, and take place on Sunday, July 31. Uniquely, the race is an invitational, which means that a horse can compete in the race only if he or she is asked by Monmouth. Any horse who is invited gets to run in the race free of charge (which is slightly dubious given Monmouth’s financials, but I digress).
Earlier in the week, a list of this year’s invitees was announced. The headliner is Nyquist, the Florida and Kentucky Derby winner, who has not raced since finishing third in the Preakness Stakes. Owner Paul Reddam and trainer Doug O’Neill have done an impressive job of being coy about Nyquist’s next start, stating that they do not want to leave California, while at the same time not wanting to race against older horses until the Breeders’ Cup. If they want to run in top-class races this summer, this is impossible. Nevertheless, Monmouth has likely been working the phone lines of both Reddam and O’Neill in the hopes that they’ll bring Nyquist over, and they remain optimistic of his participation.
The Kentucky Derby winner coming to Monmouth is unique. In the past twenty years, only five Derby winners have run in the Haskell: War Emblem in 2002, Funny Cide in 2003, Big Brown in 2008, Super Saver in 2010, and American Pharoah last year. War Emblem, Big Brown, and Pharoah won the race. Here’s hoping Nyquist will decide to make his post-Triple Crown bow at the Shore’s Greatest Stretch.
In the meantime, here’s a rundown of the other nominees. I decided not to profile a few of them, because I know that there is next to no chance of their participation. They are: Exaggerator, Creator (connections of both of whom have announced they will not run in the Haskell), Songbird (for obvious reasons), Shagaf (who is out for the year), and Mohaymen (even though his people have said the Haskell is possible, I’d be stunned if they ran there over the Jim Dandy).
Anyway, here’s the rest:
ADVENTIST: He’s been the bridesmaid of the three-year-old scene this year, with a second and three thirds from five stakes tries this year. Most recently, he was second in the Ohio Derby.
AMERICAN FREEDOM: Bob Baffert always sends over a three-year-old to this race, and he’s almost always successful. American Freedom appears to be his best hope for a third consecutive Haskell triumph, coming off a win at odds-on in the Iowa Derby. He may cause some of the more casual Haskell fans to get him confused with American Pharoah, which may lower his odds. Watch out.
ARROGATE: The other major Baffert hope, he recently won a n/w1x allowance at Santa Anita Park by 5 ¼ lengths. Before that, he broke his maiden by 4 ½ lengths. He’s all hype and little substance right now, so it would be interesting to see how he would do when tossed to the big dogs in the Haskell.
AWESOME SLEW: Briefly led in the Pegasus Stakes before tiring to finish third. He won going six furlongs easily earlier in the meet, so he may not want a longer distance.
AWESOME SPEED: Won the Federico Tesio Stakes by disqualification at Pimlico before finishing a distant ninth in the Preakness. He’s been working steadily at Colts Neck Stable in New Jersey for a while, so the Haskell is probably very prominent on his radar screen.
BRODY’S CAUSE: One of two Dale Romans prospects to be invited. He won the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland, weaving his way from the back of the pack to defeat a large field of Derby hopefuls. However, that was his only good race this year; he was well-beaten in the Tampa Bay Derby, the Kentucky Derby, and the Belmont Stakes. He’s worked once at Churchill Downs since the Belmont.
CHERRY WINE: He was seventh in the Belmont after finishing a fast-closing second in the Preakness. His first work since the Belmont was a bullet: he went a half-mile in 47 seconds, the fastest time among that day’s workers. He will hope to bounce back in the Haskell.
CONNECT: Won a n/w1x allowance on Belmont Stakes day, going almost a second slower than the three-year-olds who ran in the Easy Goer Stakes at the same distance one race before.
CUPID: Finished last in the aforementioned Easy Goer last out, after disappointing as the favorite in the Arkansas Derby. The Rebel Stakes winner has been working steadily at Santa Anita since then.
DALMORE: He’s coming off a win in the Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita, where he defeated heavily favored Danzing Candy (who, despite being a Baffert trainee, did not get a Haskell invite). He shipped east earlier in the year, when he lost the Wood Memorial by 48 lengths.
DESTIN: The heartbreak kid. He led late in the Belmont, before being caught by Creator and costing (roughly) half the horse-betting population of a major score. Trainer Todd Pletcher has won the Haskell three times, most recently with Verrazano in 2013.
DONEGAL MOON: Won the Pegasus Stakes here at Monmouth last out, upsetting heavy favorite Unified (who was not invited to this party). He had shown spotty form prior to that breakout performance, finishing out of the top three in five different stakes races.
ECONOMIC MODEL: He was last seen winning the Easy Goer on Belmont Stakes day, going 1 1/16 miles in a fairly impressive 1:40.18 seconds. He’ll make his return in the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont on Saturday, which may serve as a prep for the Haskell.
GIFT BOX: Got a large amount of hype earlier in the year after finishing third in the Remsen Stakes in November, and then promptly taking the whole winter off. In his three-year-old debut, he defeated a n/w1x allowance field at Belmont by more than four lengths. This immediately got the hype train going again. Should he contest the Haskell, it would be his first race in two months.
GOVERNOR MALIBU: He was the official twitter hype horse of the Belmont, after finishing second in the Peter Pan Stakes. He was fourth in the Belmont, but according to some, he would have won, and possibly cured cancer, had he not checked on the inside in the stretch. With a cleaner trip in his next race, he may run better, and defy the laws of physics along the way.
GUN RUNNER: There’s been no ambiguity from this camp: ever since his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby, owner Ron Winchell has been dead-set on taking his horse to the Haskell. He prepped for this spot with an easy victory in the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs. Earlier in the year, he won the Louisiana Derby and the Risen Star Stakes. He’ll be one of the favorites.
MO TOM: This one won the Ohio Derby going away in his last race for his second stakes win of 2016. He reminds me a bit of Wild and Wicked, who won the Ohio Derby in 2003 and promptly came into the Haskell with an ungodly amount of hype on his shoulders. He finished fourth.
MY MAN SAM: Prepped for the Kentucky Derby in the Blue Grass Stakes, and had an impossibly wide trip and finished second. He was probably the best horse that day. He was not the best horse in the Kentucky Derby, and it showed, finishing eleventh. He has not raced since that day, but has accumulated a string of steady workouts at Belmont.
NYQUIST: Needs no introduction, especially since I profiled him at the start of the piece. Here’s another fun fact: should he run in the Haskell, he’d be the third reigning Eclipse two-year-old champion of the past twenty years to run in this race. The others? American Pharoah last year, and Lookin at Lucky in 2010.
STRADIVARI: If the betting pools for the Preakness were limited to people on social media, Stradivari would’ve gone off at 1/9. As it were, he went off at 8/1 and finished fourth after racing wide. He was last seen finishing fifth in the Belmont, and has worked once since then.
SUDDENBREAKINGNEWS: He had an interesting presence on the Triple Crown trail, as people continued to bet him despite his tendency to drop way off the lead early on, costing himself a lot of ground. He has been unable to follow up his Southwest Stakes triumph with another victory, going 0-for-4 since then. Last out, he was a flat ninth in the Belmont Stakes, and recently returned to the worktab at Churchill Downs.
SUNNY RIDGE: Jersey’s finest won the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct earlier in the year, but has not raced since finishing fourth in the Gotham Stakes at the same track in March. He’s been working steadily since mid-June at Monmouth Park, but was interestingly not entered in the Long Branch Stakes on Saturday. If he tries to run in the Haskell off an almost-five-month layoff, that may not end well. He’s owned by Dennis Drazin, a member of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, which operates Monmouth.
SWIPE: The runner-up in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile last year, he’s been a disappointment so far in 2016. He was soundly defeated in the Lexington Stakes at Keeneland in his debut, and then lost a n/w1x allowance at Belmont. He’ll also run in the Dwyer on Saturday, where he hopes to rebound.
THATLOOKONYERFACE: His presence on this list is, to be polite, a mystery. He won the Marine Stakes at Woodbine back in May at 32/1 odds, and followed it up with a tenth-place finish in the Ohio Derby. If he wins the Haskell, thatlookonmyface will be one of disbelief.
TOM’S READY: Won the Woody Stephens Stakes on Belmont Stakes day in his last start after storming from the back of the pack. Bayern parlayed a Woody Stephens win into a Haskell triumph in 2014.
So there you have it — your probable Haskell runners. We’ll find out which ones will actually run in the race the Thursday before (so July 28), and the big one is three days later. It’s “shore” to be a great one.
John Piassek is a student at Loyola University in Maryland. He prides himself as a supporter of racing in New Jersey and Maryland. John is an aspiring race track announcer, marketer and writer. His “Mid-Atlantic Musings” column on DanonymousRacing.com focuses mostly on NJ and MD racing, ways to market them, how the states can improve their racing, and how racing should start focusing on bettor-centric marketing.
You can follow John on Twitter @Theyreoff.