The faith Girvin's connections have in his ability were well documented over the past several months. In one of the more thrilling stretch drives seen in recent editions of the $1 million betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 30, the son of Tale of Ekati backed up their unwavering commitment to what he could achieve.
The ever-evolving complexion of this year's 3-year-old male division ended up cycling back to one of its earlier standouts, as Brad Grady's Girvin moved in tandem with Grade 1 winner Practical Joke down the stretch, and then found another gear to catch determined multiple graded stakes winner McCraken at the wire and capture the 1 1/8-mile test on the Jersey Shore, which was held for the 50th time this year.
Girvin outfinished McCraken to win by a nose, with Practical Joke another half-length behind in third. The final time was 1:48.35, and, in addition to landing his first Grade 1 win, Girvin earned an automatic berth in the Nov. 4 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar. The Haskell is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series “Win and You’re In” qualifying race for the Classic.
After breaking well, Girvin sat last in the Haskell field of seven as Timeline and Battle of Midway prompted one another through fractions of :23.93 and :47.34 up front. After a half-mile, Girvin began to advance along with McCraken to his outside, but the latter got the jump as McCraken made a four-wide bid around the final turn.
When McCraken went by the fading pacesetters and then Irish War Cry at the head of the lane, the first Grade 1 win of his career seemed to be there for the taking.
But Girvin, with Robby Albarado in the irons for the first time, had other plans. He dug in down the middle of the track with Practical Joke to his inside and notched the top-level triumph for himself at odds of 9.20-1. It is the first Grade 1 win for trainer Sharp, husband of former jockey Rosie Napravnik, who serves as Girvin's exercise rider.
Irish War Cry finished fourth, followed by Timeline, Battle of Midway, and Hence.
"It feels great. It was the way it was supposed to be," Sharp said of Girvin's win. "It was a great team effort – the right horse, the right owners. ... It means a lot. At the quarter pole it looked like he was kind of all in, and I didn't know if he was going to make up the ground he needed to. At about the eighth pole, it looked like he had a shot.
"It's one of those things, where my horse career seems to have been a whirlwind thus far but ... everything seems to be falling into place."
"We just maybe needed to wait a little more," said Brian Hernandez Jr., jockey of McCraken. "Turning for home he was well within himself and I thought he was a winner. This was a tough beat."
Earlier this year, Girvin stamped himself a leading contender on the prep trail this winter and spring with wins in the Risen Star Stakes and Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, but he finished 13th in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands after his training was hindered in the weeks leading up to the classic due to a quarter crack.
Returning in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 24, Girvin took command in midstretch but was edged by Grade 1 winner Irap to lose by a nose. His comeback win in the Haskell boosted Girvin’s career record to four wins from seven starts, with two seconds, and total earnings of $1,574,400. Sharp said that Girvin's next start will likely be in the Aug. 26 Travers Stakes at Saratoga Race Course.
Slideshow photos below are by Penelope Miller for America's Best Racing.