Photos courtesy Eclipse Sportswire
As much as it was won by a heavy favorite who was nearly 10 lengths ahead at the finish, the $1 million Haskell Invitational offered a somewhat subtle handicapping lesson.
The race featured two top contenders in a horse who was second in the Belmont Stakes and won the Preakness in his two most recent starts and a horse who was 14th in the Kentucky Derby in his lone Triple Crown appearance.
On that information alone, it would seem that Oxbow, the Preakness victor, should have been favored over Verrazano, the Derby also-ran.
But in the end, it was Verrazano who went off a 6-5 favorite and posted the largest winning margin in the history of the mile and an eighth Haskell – albeit an injury to Oxbow made things easier for him.
Because Oxbow was being asked to play Verrazano’s game.
OXBOW AT THE BEGINNING OF THE HASKELL
Had the Haskell been a mile and a quarter race, like the upcoming Travers, Oxbow might have been the favorite. In three races at distances beyond 1 1/8 miles, Oxbow was sixth in the Derby (finishing well ahead of Verrazano), won the Preakness and was second in the Belmont.
He clearly has plenty of stamina.
Yet in races at 1 1/8 miles or less, Oxbow had won only 2 of 9 starts.
Verrazano, meanwhile, was undefeated in five starts at 1 1/8 miles or less. As questionable as he still might be at a classic 10-furlong distance, Verrazano was the better fit at nine furlongs.
Plus, while Oxbow was making his first start since a grueling Triple Crown campaign, Verrazano had prepped for the Haskell by turning in a sensational effort at Monmouth as he captured the Pegasus by 9 ¼ lengths on June 16.
Putting it all together, while Oxbow may have enjoyed a class edge, it was Verrazano who had the conditions – namely the distance and experience over the racetrack – in his favor.
Everyone else had to play his game, and the payoff for knowing that may have been a paltry $4.20 at the betting windows on Haskell Day, but could be much more lucrative in similar circumstances down the road.