The Brock Talk

Friday, July 30, 2010

Lookin at Four in the Haskell

The $1 million IZOD Haskell Invitational of 2010 has certainly met the challenge of attaining the standard set by the previous best versions of the 1-1/8 mile, grade 1, race. Won last year by Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra over eventual Champion 3-Year-Old Colt or Gelding Summer Bird and the site of one of epic battles of the 1980s when Alysheba tried valiantly to run down his Triple Crown nemisis Bet Twice in ’87 and failed, this year’s Haskell Invitational features nearly every top 3-year-old male in training.

The race features the first two finishers in the Kentucky Derby (gr. 1) presented by Yum! Brands in Super Saver and Ice Box respectively and the top two finishers in the Preakness in winner Lookin at Lucky and second-place finisher First Dude. Only the Belmont Stakes is lightly represented with the winner Drosselmeyer on the sideline due to a minor injury and runner-up Fly Down running the previous day at Saratoga in the grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes.

Because of the success of the Elite Summer Season at Monmouth Park and preponderance of some of the nation’s top stables running at the New Jersey track, this Haskell Invitational also brings the most legitimate winner of the local prep race (the Longbranch Stakes on in Trappe Shot, installed as the morning line co-second choice at 3-1.

Only horse racing can produce the irony of one of the best versions of the Haskell Invitational during a year when GAHP (Generally Accepted Handicapping Principals – I was an accounting major in college) have defined this crop of sophomores as mediocre at best.

And with that being said – let’s pick a winner. My comments in post position order.

1. Lookin at Lucky (Martin Garcia) – The morning line favorite at 5-2 odds is, in my opinion, the most logical winner. Whether one can bet on him at 5-2 is the question. He has a knack for trouble when he gets too far behind and young jockey Martin Garcia is likely to receive instructions from trainer Bob Baffert to stay engaged with the leaders. Baffert, who has won the Haskell three times with Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002) and Roman Ruler in 2005, knows that closers have a difficult time getting to the winner’s circle in the Haskell. His 1-5 favorite Point Given won while overcoming the biggest deficit at the half-mile pole in the last ten runnings of the Haskell at 4 lengths. Point Given won by a half-length over 13-1 shot Touch Tone and 7-1 choice Burning Roma. In other words: stay close.

2. Afleet Again (Joe Bravo) – Not even the best 3-year-old colt named “Afleet” to have run at Monmouth Park this year having lost to Afleet Express in the grade 3 Pegasus June 19. Breaking from the 2 post will help him improve off of his last two wide trips at Monmouth Park as will local leading jockey Joe Bravo. But he’ll need a bigger boost than that to have an impact on this field.

3. Ice Box (Jose Lezcano) – The winner of the Florida Derby, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and the favorite in the Belmont Stakes. Trouble in Kentucky and a bad day in New York kept this Nick Zito trainee from a Triple Crown credential. Needs a fast pace to run down and still belongs to the mysterious, riddle-wrapped enigma club of this class. Recent Haskell history is also against him from a pace standpoint. See comments on Point Given.

4. First Dude (Ramon Dominguez) – If speed is what you need to win the Haskell Invitational than nobody comes more prepared than 6-1 morning line choice First Dude. If the Preakness and Belmont are 1-1/8 miles, you may be looking at the winner of both races. But the Preakness is a sixteenth of a mile and the Belmont three furlongs longer. The Haskell is not. It is exactly 1-1/8 miles and it may be exactly the distance for perennial second and third fiddle First Dude.

5. Our Dark Knight (Elvis Trujillo) – The Rabbit. Owned by Robert V. LaPuenta and trained by Nick Zito, Our Dark Knight has apparently been entered into the Haskell to insure an honest pace for the connection’s stable star Ice Box. Look for this allowance race winner to shoot to the lead in an effort to disrupt any possibility of a slow pace by First Dude – then fade into the dark night that is the Haskell also rans.

6. Super Saver (Calvin Borel) – Ice Box has nothing on this guy in the mysterious enigma department. The Kentucky Derby winner flopped in the Preakness running eighth and had previous trouble living up to his juvenile expectations before the run for the roses. His Kentucky Derby was a dream trip, which jockey Calvin Borel is more than capable of delivering Sunday. It was also on a sloppy track. There is also a chance of a sloppy track Sunday at Momouth Park. Super Saver has every ability to capitalize on both. I’ll pass at 3-1 morning line odds but will definitely have him in my exotics.

7. Uptowncharlybrown (Rajiv Maragh) – The horse that runs for the memory of late trainer Alan Seewald had one of those unexplainable mishaps in the Belmont Stakes
while running fifth, just three lengths off of winner Drosselmeyer. During the running of the race, the saddle pad carrying the additional weight necessary to give jockey Rajiv Maragh the needed 126 pounds of assigned weight, slipped completely out from under the securing girth straps and fell to the track. One can only assume that, despite carrying some ten pounds or so less weight to the finish line, the balance and effectiveness of Maragh was compromised. Uptowncharlybrown and Maragh will have to be closer to lead in the Haskell than they usually like so the pace circumstances may be too big of an obstacle to overcome for the win. But don’t leave him out of your exactas.

8. Trappe Shot (Alan Garcia) – If you are a Beyer Speed Figure disciple then this Kiaran McLaughlin trainee is an attention getter. In his last two starts (in the ungraded Longbranch Stakes at Monmouth and an allowance race at Belmont Park) he has registered 105 Beyer numbers in both races. The next best Beyer in the Haskell field is Super Saver and his 104 in the Derby and Lookin at Lucky with a 102 in the Preakness. Neither them nor anybody else in the Haskell has two triple digit Beyer numbers on their resume. He also has the speed to win the Haskell, never laying more than 1-1/2 lengths of the leader in any of his last four consecutive victories. It’s a big jump in class from the Longbranch to the Haskell and no horse has ever accomplished the double. So despite his Beyer credentials, I’m leaving him to my exotics.

Selections: 1-4-3

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