Saturday, July 28, 2018

Handicapper's Corner: Haskell Invitational (G1)

Setting Sail in the 2018 Haskell

By: Nick Costa, Trackside with Trackman

The Grade 1 Haskell Invitational from Monmouth Park Racetrack in Oceanport, New Jersey, is on our ThoroFan docket for Sunday.

The $1 million event is, a “Win and You’re In” for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic.

The 2018 running marks the 51st renewal of the race named for, Amory Haskell, the first president and chairman of the Monmouth Park Jockey Club.

This year’s edition suffered a substantial loss of star power when it was announced Triple Crown winner, Justify, who was targeted for the Grade 1 summer fixture, would not be participating. The Bob Baffert trained colt was on the sidelines with a left ankle injury.

Those trainers that were originally going to skip the race to avoid facing horse racing’s 13th Triple Crown champion in the ‘Centerpiece of the Summer’ at the Jersey shore, then altered their objevtives when his absence was made public.

There were no plans as to when or where Justify would race next.

Then on Wednesday, it was announced that the unbeaten colt with immense talent who made his debut February 18th, and in a span of 111 days skyrocketed to stardom winning four Grade 1’s, including becoming the first horse to win the Kentucky Derby without racing as a 2-year-old since Apollo in 1882, would not be returning to the races, but instead, was retired.

His vacancy presents a nice opportunity for some of the other top horses from the 3-year old division to participate in Monmouth Park’s signature event.

Headlining the list are the runners-up from the first two jewels of the Triple Crown, Good Magic and Bravazo. The former was last year’s champion two-year-old colt and chased Justify through the Churchill Downs stretch in the Kentucky Derby but could not close the 2 ¼-lengths deficit. The latter finished fast in the Preakness at Pimlico to come up just a half-length short of Justify.

With Justify gone to the breeding shed, the second half of the 3-year-old division is wide open, and several runners from this interesting and competitive crop are looking to be that next horse who emerges to the forefront and grabs the spotlight. And it all starts here.

The nine-furlong Haskell Invitational goes as race 12 on the 14-race card and will be televised live on NBC-TV from 5-6 p.m., with post time slated for 5:45 p.m.

Here is a look at field from the rail out.

1 - Lone Sailor – Bravo/Amoss - Gave the Haskell a major boost when it was determined he would run in the race. Colt has not won past the maiden ranks, but has competed against the best horses in the division in the first two legs of the Triple Crown. Was eighth in the Kentucky Derby and fifth, beaten just two lengths for the top spot in the Preakness, and only a length behind Good Magic. The son of Majestic Warrior enters off a runner-up finish behind Core Beliefs in the Ohio Derby. If you believe lightning can strike twice in the same place, remember last year’s Ohio Derby runner-up (Girvin) won the Haskell. Amoss saddles his first Haskell starter, and Lone Sailor has given every indication that he’s ready to go again following five-week layoff.

2 - Navy Commander - Arroyo/Reid – Shipped into Monmouth three weeks ago and became a stakes winner when he wired a five-horse field in slow time in the one-mile-and-one sixteenth Long Branch Stakes, the local prep for the Haskell. Navy Commander is on a two-race winning streak for the second time in his career and when it comes to winning races for this gelding, and he has five of them from 11 lifetime starts, albeit softer company, the son of Poseidon’s Warrior has always done his best running on or very near the lead. Has a win over the surface which is always a plus, but another win here in this spot would be shocking.

3 - Roaming Union - Jimenez/Breen- Union Rags colt was blanked in six tries in his juvenile campaign, then finally broke through maiden ranks in January at Aqueduct, winning by a dozen lengths. The Polytrack at Turfway didn’t pan out in his first try against winners, then he faltered back on dirt at Laurel after leading to three-quarter mark. Following a pair of runner-up finishes, including last month’s Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth, where he missed by a neck, he now makes his first graded stakes start. Roaming Union has since recorded a pair of five-furlong workouts and now must face his stiffest competition yet.

4 - Core Beliefs - Prat/Eurton – Unraced at two, this son of Quality Road did not compete in the Triple Crown races, but has developed nicely since breaking his maiden in the spring. Last month, he won the G3 Ohio Derby in a photo finish by a nose, overcoming a wide trip from post 10. In May, he managed a second-place finish in the G3 Peter Pan at Belmont Park after stumbling at the start. In April, in his first start against winners, he was third behind Justify in the GI Santa Anita Derby. All three were at today’s nine-furlong distance. Has yet to finish out of the money in six career starts. Core Beliefs has raced extremely well in graded stakes competition and could be just starting to put it all together.

5 - Bravazo - Saez/Lukas – Gave the race another major ‘shot in the arm’ when he was added to the lineup. Danced every step of the 2018 Triple Crown series and acquitted himself very well in each event. His late charge in the Preakness where he came up a half-length short behind Justify, was sandwiched in between a pair of ‘better than looked’ sixth-place finishes in the Derby and Belmont. Both races came with legit excuses - Wide the entire way in the former and pinned down along the inside for much of the race in the latter - Bravazo’s lone graded stakes victory came in the G2 Risen Star in February at Fair Grounds. Regular and solid works since the Belmont have this Awesome Again colt fit and on his toes for the Haskell.

6 - Good Magic - J.Ortiz/Brown – Last year’s 2-year-old champion and Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner is the most accomplished horse in the race. Following his win in the Blue Grass Stakes, this son of Curlin was a solid runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Preakness Stakes. In the latter, he dueled on the lead with Justify deep into the stretch before tiring. He skipped the Belmont with the Haskell as the next target and has trained steadily for this race. With Justify now retired, Good Magic is the best 3-year-old in training, until proven otherwise, and gives Brown an excellent shot at his first Haskell win.

7 - Golden Brown - Rendon/McBurney - Based at Monmouth Park, this son of Offlee Wild enters this contest having run good races over the turf in his last two starts, including an upset win in the G3 Kent Stakes at Delaware Park in his last race two weeks ago. Colt has raced four times at Monmouth– three on dirt and once on the grass where he rallied to finish a fast-closing second in the state-bred Dan Horn Stakes last month. He has also performed very well on dirt, although they have been strictly sprint races. Displayed an affinity for a distance-of-ground when put on the turf, but this is a dirt route where he is an unknown quantity. Golden Brown is in top form but pitted against some of the better 3-year-olds in the country is a very tough test to go long on dirt for the first time.

Summary: The biggest event of the summer at the Jersey Shore is a very competitive race, and a good one to wager on. Although the race seems to be Good Magic’s for the taking, only one favorite (American Pharoah) in the past four running’s of the Haskell has won.
With that said, I will look elsewhere for the win.

LONE SAILOR is still just a maiden winner but has given a very good account of himself competing against the best in the division. Throw out the Kentucky Derby, where was hampered by a slow start and his last three races have been highly competitive. He will be looking for pace up front and with several speed/stalkers types in here, enough may develop to allow his closing style to get it done. As an extra added attraction, he gets the services of ‘Jersey’ Joe Bravo, a 13-time Monmouth riding champion to guide him.

GOOD MAGIC will be a heavy favorite in this race and deservedly so.
He is the most accomplished horse in the field. Has won at the distance and sports a top-notch trainer/jockey combo. But he returns from a nine-week layoff and may not be fully-cranked. Therefore, he could be vulnerable.

BRAVAZO is a tough horse and showed his durability competing in all three legs of the Triple Crown. He is a Grade 2 winner, and two-time Grade 1 runner-up which gives him every chance to win this.

Play: With $100 ThoroFan dollars, I will wager $30 to win on Lone Sailor. I will play a $20 exacta box with Lone Sailor/Good Magic ($40 total) and a $15 exacta box with Lone Sailor/Bravazo ($30 total).

Good luck, and as always, enjoy the race.

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