Saturday, July 30, 2016

Handicapper's Corner: 2016 Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1)

2016 Haskell Stakes Nyquist vs. Exaggerator, Part Six

By: Jeffrey Cobb, S. FL ThoroFan

This week I am bringing to you my analysis of the William Hill Haskell Invitational. The race will take place on the Jersey shore at Monmouth Park. The race will be run at a distance of 9 furlongs for a $1,000,000 purse.

Last year me and my wonderful wife, Annette had the privilege of attending as guests of the track. We watched Triple Crown Winner American Pharoah (did I spell that right?) dominate an over matched field before facing defeat in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga. I blame his connections for that. They had no business running the colt back so soon after 4 cross country flights. But enough editorializing.

A check of the weather forecast indicates that it is going to be a rather wet weekend at the shore which will suit several of our 6 contenders. As for the track bias, Monmouth tends to be biased towards those who can be on or near the lead early. Of our 6 contenders, there are no need to lead types which will not bode well for late running types such as Preakness winner Exaggerator #6 and winner of OC50k for non winners of one Awesome Slew (#3).

Of course Exaggerator has demonstrated that he is a classy horse with a liking for off tracks.

After running a new top in April and then pairing that top twice in two weeks, it was no surprise that Exaggerator did not fire in the Belmont. However, he has now got some needed time off so I will expect a good showing from him, but maybe not good enough for top honors.

Bob Baffert is shipping American Freedom (#5) who is the winner of the Grade 3 Iowa Derby last time out. American Freedom is lightly raced with only 4 races under his saddle. His best race, Thorograph figure wise, was his Maiden debut which he ran on a sloppy track. He was unable to move forward of that race and ran 4 points slower at Churchill in the Pat Day Mile on Derby day. He improved a little of that effort at Pimlico on Preakness day winning the Sir Barton and was a couple points better in his win at Prairie Meadows. His pattern suggest that he could return to and perhaps surpass his debut figure which makes him a solid contender. The negative is that he is unproven at the distance and this will be his toughest test to date. I think American Freedom has an excellent chance to be in the money and could possibly win if he makes a very possible move forward of his debut race.

Steve Asmussen's Gun Runner (#4) ran a new top 2 races ago in the Derby where he finished third and then paired that top in winning Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill. The fact that he was able to pair that new top rather than bounce off of it is a good sign of a healthy runner who could be set for a move forward now.  However, he would have to move forward by a couple of points to be a contender here. He could be in the money, but I am looking elsewhere for the top slot.

Sunny Ridge (#2) is another who has run respectably on off tracks. He's another who is a couple of points slower than the better known contenders. However, he has not raced since March, so the question is how much has he grown and matured in that time. I don't know the answer to that question, but I expect he too should move forward.

Finally, we come to the 6/5 favorite, Nyquist (#1). Trainer Doug O'Neill and the ownership made, in my opinion, a good decision in skipping the Belmont. Although he only managed 3rd in the Preakness after winning the Derby, he paired the top he had achieved in the Derby which is a good sign. Given time to recover from those grueling races I really like his July 11 work at Santa Anita and the 1 mile work a Del Mar on the 24th. This tells me that this guy is healthy and ready to go.

Bottom line, Nyquist is the horse to beat here. He could be sitting on his best yet. Unfortunately, there will not be a big score if you use him either to win or in the exotics. If you are looking for an upset horse, that would be American Freedom. Unfortunately, it is difficult to make much of a score in 6 horse fields. Exaggerator will also be right there at the finish. Your surest bet to cash a ticket would be Nyquist to win. However, in cases such as this maybe it is best to take a shot with the longest odds horse you think can win. If the morning line holds up, that would be American Freedom. There will be no value in using Nyquist or Exaggerator in an exacta with American Freedom, so take a shot with him solo. With a $100.00 to spend on this race I think a $50.00 Win/Place bet is in order. That way if he does come up short to Nyquist, you at least have a shot of getting your money back and maybe show a minimal profit.

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