The Haskell Invitational is in the Jersey spotlight Sunday as seven three-year-olds will be looking at glory in the Oceanport fixture. The Haskell is a $1 million Grade 1 event and it will be run for the 50th time at Monmouth Park. Carded at nine furlongs, the winning owner will received $600,000.
The Haskell has been won by some legends over the years. I bet on the 1971 winner West Coast Scout and for a 19-year-old punk, the $200 wager was huge. Majestic Light took the Haskell in 1976.
Coastal won the battle three years later. Holy Bull heard the roar from the Oceanport crowd in 1994 as did the Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem in 2002, opening the door for Derby winner Big Brown down the line.
Two years ago, Triple Crown winner American Pharoah won the Haskell for Bob Baffert and last year Exaggerator caught the kind of sloppy strip he prefers and demolished the Haskell field.
The Haskell has always held a special place in my heart since I used to watch steeplechase racing on the grounds of Amory L. Haskell, whom the race was named after.
Back in those days an annual trek to the Middletown, New Jersey property was both an eye opener and an education. Being impressionable, the site of seeing people milling around drinking champagne, bookies meandering through the crowd and seeing limousines with chandeliers, was unforgettable for this teenager at the time.
The Haskell is also a very special race for the owner of Irish War Cry, who is owned Haskell’s daughter Isabelle de Tomaso. Bred in the Garden State of New Jersey, Irish War Cry has not raced since running second to Tapwrit in the Belmont Stakes. The link to the Belmont was published by the New York Racing Association. The freshening figures to have done this colt a world of good. The son of Curlin, who was a two-time Horse of the Year, won his debut at first asking and then took two months off. He won his next start in a $99,000 stakes at Laurel and then was off to the races. Irish War Cry took the Grade 2 Holy Bull, threw in a clinker in the Fountain of Youth, but rebounded with a win in the Wood Memorial. He is trained by Graham Motion and will be ridden by Rajiv Maragh. His tactical speed is one of his best assets and he should be able to rely on that trait breaking from the rail on Sunday.
Battle of Midway will give Irish War Cry all he can handle. The colt had an ideal prep on June 24 when he easily won the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita going away with a 94 Beyer Speed Figure. The link to the Affirmed was uploaded by Santa Anita Park. Battle of Midway is trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, a California-based conditioner that doesn’t ship his horses for the frequent flyer miles. Battle of Midway has shown: 44 and change speed and he won the Affirmed on the front end. He also has shown the ability to rate off the pace and get the job done like he did in his second career start. A ‘short’ horse is a runner that runs well in a certain race but just doesn’t seem to have the foundation or stamina needed to win. Hollendorfer never sends out a short horse.
Timeline is one of two Chad Brown trainees in the Haskell and this runner has made no mistakes. He has won all four of his starts including a win in the prep for this race, the Grade 3 Pegasus. This son of Hard Spun cost $500,000 and he has earned almost half of that cost so far. He showed in his debut that he can come from off the pace but his positional style will give him first run on the deep closers.
Practical Joke is the long-fused component of the Brown pair. He won a pair of Grade 1 races as a juvenile and was third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile to Classic Empire. He ran second in his first couple of races of 2017 and then was a solid fifth in the Kentucky Derby. Freshened until July 8, he made a winning comeback in the Grade 3 Dwyer coming from slightly off the pace and earning a 101 Beyer Speed Figure.
McCraken has been kind of a disappointment of late. He won his first four starts but suffered an injury in the February 11 Sam Davis. Sidelined until April 8, he was the beaten favorite in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes and then a dull eight in the Kentucky Derby when jostled at the start. He returned to action with a win in the June 17 Matt Winn Stakes but that was a rather soft field.
Hence has never really won on the big stage. He cashed at Oaklawn for his first win and then had to travel to New Mexico to win the Sunland Derby. Off since beating only one horse in the Preakness Stakes, the son of Street Boss won the Grade 3 Iowa Derby on July 7 against an inferior group of runners.
On the outside in the Haskell, Girvin will begin his quest. Trained by Joe Sharp, the runner has been a Fair Grounds specialist so far. All three of his wins have come at that New Orleans track but the colt did run well last time when beaten a nose in the Ohio Derby. Girvin was flattered when the horse that just beat him a nose returned to win the Indiana Derby on July 15.
The way the Haskell shapes up is that the three inside horses have speed and the four on the outside will be tracking the pace. Irish War Cry figures to gun from his rail position. Battle of Midway has options and his jockey Flavian Prat is versatile but the colt should be forwardly placed. Timeline has been first or second in all of his route attempts and should be on the muscle early.
Practical Joke and Girvin figure to be next in line with McCraken and Hence trailing the early leaders.
Irish War Cry was compromised in the Kentucky Derby when he drew post 17. He tried to force the pace, was only a half-length off the lead at one point, but the post position did him in. Irish War Cry has run once at this nine-furlong distance and he recorded his highest Beyer Speed Figure of 101. Look for Maragh to be aggressive and take the race to his opponents. When all is said and done, this favorite son of New Jersey will make his heritage proud.
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