The Grade 1, $1 million Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes lacks Triple Crown winner Justify, recently retired from racing, but it does bring together a field of seven, including three horses who competed in one or more races against the undefeated champion. Good Magic deserves first mention as he was not disgraced in any way in his runner-up effort in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve nor when beaten by a pair of necks for second and by a length for the win in the Grade 1 Preakness Stakes. Lone Sailor improved off his eighth-place Derby finish to be another length behind Good Magic in the Preakness then improved again when beaten by a nose in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby at this distance last month. Core Beliefs was the winner of the Ohio Derby and may have enough improvement to step up from Grade 3 to Grade 1 competition, while Bravazo hopes to rebound off a sixth-place finish in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets and back to the form shown when beaten by just a half-length by Justify in the Preakness. Golden Brown won the Grade 3 Kent Stakes at the distance of the Haskell but on turf and will attempt to transfer that form to dirt. Roaming Union finished second in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park last month in his second start off a rest and may be moving forward, but he has not run in, let alone won, a graded stakes race to date. Navy Commander won the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth three weeks ago to earn his fifth career win in 11 races but he too will be running in a graded stakes for the first time.
I’m going to go out on a bit of a limb and choose Golden Brown as my top pick to win this year’s Haskell. Although not proven in Grade 1 company to date, his win last month at the distance (on turf) in the Kent Stakes was visually impressive as he moved from fifth on the turn, to third with an eighth of a mile to go, to the front as he drew away with ease. It was a career-best effort that earned a 95 Equibase Speed Figure — admittedly not close to the 110 figures Core Beliefs and Lone Sailor earned when first and second, respectively, in the Ohio Derby and the career-best tying 108 figure Good Magic earned when fourth in the Preakness — but Golden Brown still may have improving to do. There’s no concern about Golden Brown transferring his form from turf to dirt, not only because he earned his first career victory on dirt in February but also because his sire, Offlee Wild, has produced a Breeders’ Cup Classic winner (Bayern) and his dam (mother) is by Chester House, giving the colt a lot of pedigree for the surface and distance. Trainer Patrick McBurney is no slouch either. Stats Race Lens reveals McBurney has started 14 horses in dirt route stakes over the past few years who won their previous start, and nearly 50 percent of those (six) have won or finished second, including 2017 Philip H. Iselin Stakes winner Just Call Kenny. Although he certainly will need to dramatically improve upon his last-race speed figure to contend with some of the others in this year’s Haskell, some of whom have potential issues, Golden Brown may do just that and post the upset.
Good Magic is a legitimate favorite, although he may go to post at odds less than even money and so he may not offer a return worth the risk for a win bet. Following his win in the Toyota Blue Grass Stakes in April in his second start back from four months off, Good Magic ran well enough behind Justify for the final three-sixteenths of the Derby and let no horse go by him to take the runner-up spot. Three weeks later in the Preakness, jockey Jose Ortiz chose tactics that saw Good Magic battling head and head for the lead from the start, which resulted in him being a bit tired late as he went from second to fourth in the final stages. Just the same, that effort earned Good Magic a 108 speed figure, just a point off his career-best 109. In the Haskell, with the possibility Navy Commander, Core Beliefs, or both, will try for the early lead, Ortiz can be in a great stalking position in third in the early stages and, if that is the case, a repeat of his success in the Blue Grass may be forthcoming.
Core Beliefs and Lone Sailor finished first and second, respectively, in the Ohio Derby last month and at the distance of the Haskell. Both earned career-best 110 figures, which are tied with Bravazo for the highest of any entrant in this field. However, as I alluded to earlier, they may have potential issues because each did something in the Ohio Derby that raises questions about their chances today. Although Core Beliefs raced wide on the turn, the jockey that rode him that day (Joe Talamo) had to give him a few reminders before the quarter-pole and he was all out to beat Lone Sailor as well. Lone Sailor had a dream trip in the two path in the stretch to make the lead between the sixteenth pole and finish over Core Beliefs, but could not continue his progress and got nailed at the finish line. Core Beliefs is on a pattern of improving Equibase figures (94, 108, 110) and Lone Sailor improved from 106 in the Preakness to 110 in the Ohio Derby, so on that point they both have a chance to win the Haskell. Nevertheless, I don’t see a lot of fight coming from either in the late stages if Good Magic rallies like he did in the Blue Grass or if Golden Brown rallies as he did in the Kent, so they could be relegated to minor awards.
Similar to Core Beliefs and Lone Sailor, Bravazo is a horse that might finish second or third in the Haskell. He ran very well in the Preakness when kicking into high gear in the final yards and just missing to Justify and he proved himself at the graded stakes level when winning the Risen Star Stakes in February with a career-best 110 figure but there’s just no telling if he will show up with his best race.
Navy Commander earned an 87 figure winning the Long Branch Stakes three weeks ago while Roaming Union earned a 79 figure when second by a neck in the Pegasus Stakes last month and both look overmatched against the other five runners.
To a lesser extent: