Run at 1 1/8 miles, Sunday’s $1 million Betfair.com Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., is a mid-summer jewel for 3-year-olds. It is a “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge race.
Trainer Bob Baffert has won eight editions of the Haskell, but for the second consecutive year, neither he nor Todd Pletcher, who has won the race three times, will be participating.
Of the seven trainers represented in this year’s race, only D. Wayne Lukas (Bravazo) has a Haskell wins on their resume. That victory came with one of the only two fillies to ever win the race –3-year-old filly champ Serena’s Song (1995). She is a Hall of Famer.
Of the participating jockeys, only Joe Bravo (aboard Lone Sailor) has won the Haskell, taking the 2004 edition with Lion Heart.
Here are five questions that must be answered this weekend …
1. Before we get into the Haskell, your thoughts on Justify’s career and retirement?
Joe’s answer: Justify’s accomplishments are not likely to be repeated – maiden breaker to undefeated Triple Crown winner in a tidy 111 days.
That being said, to achieve “legendary” status, in my eyes, he still had something to prove. The fact that he never took on, let alone beat, older horses will always leave a medium-sized hole in the resume, and although Justify’s run up and through the Triple Crown was amazing, it was somewhat circumstantial. Consider this …
- Bolt d’Oro, a high-profile second to Justify in the Santa Anita Derby, got crushed in follow-up starts in both the Kentucky Derby and Met Mile.
- Justify got a perfect trip in the Kentucky Derby. After a squeaky-clean gate break, he enjoyed a perfect, pressing trip behind a no chance longshot in Promises Fulfilled over a super sloppy track that favored his style.
- He was all out to hold off Bravazo and Tenfold in the Preakness when Jose Ortiz, arguably the best rider in the country, chose a curious strategy, battling with Justify from the inside instead of letting his rival clear and taking him on from a much more advantageous outside position with Derby runner-up Good Magic.
- When Noble Indy was inexplicably taken off the pace, contrary to the instructions given by his owner to force the issue, and others were compromised by an erratic Restoring Hope, Justify was able to walk on the lead in the Belmont.
What’s the severity of Justify’s ankle injury and with proper rest and care could he have at least made a run at the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 3?
I’m not a vet, but one can’t help to think with a fair amount of confidence that after the Belmont win, Justify was never intended to run again. From a purely financial risk-versus-reward perspective, it makes no sense to continue to race for purse money and pay the insurance premiums on a horse worth a reported $75 million.
Like all sports, horse racing is a business. I compare it to a “one and done” athlete in college sports. Similarly, for horses with stud value, their racing career is merely a stepping stone to the bigger payday.
Human athletes get an opportunity to take their game to the next level. Horses make babies.
It’s a shame there aren’t more sportsmen in this game. When you die, assets and money go to somebody else, but your legacy lives on.
Is Justify a Hall of Famer?
Gayle Sayers is. One of the greatest running backs of all time, his career was cut short by injury, but just like Justify, there is no denying he was special for a short window of time.
Justify deserves his place with horse racing’s elite, but let there be no doubt, economics, not injury, ended his career.
We will never know what could have been, but in the end, that’s not the horse’s fault.
2. In the lead up to the Kentucky Derby, the consensus opinion was that this was a super-talented crop. What happened?
Joe’s answer: Top to bottom, let’s take a look back at the 2018 Kentucky Derby field …
Justify – Became the 13th Triple Crown winner.
Good Magic – Better than it looks fourth in the Preakness. Haskell favorite.
Audible – Has not run since Derby. Unsatisfactory training, turned out for a second time late June.
Instilled Regard – Has not run since Derby. Transferred to Chad Brown for East Coast campaign.
My Boy Jack – Dull eighth in Belmont Invitational on turf.
Bravazo – Dances every dance. Second choice in Haskell.
Hofburg – Third in Belmont. Using Friday’s Curlin Stakes as a springboard to the Travers.
Lone Sailor – Fifth in Preakness. Just missed in Ohio Derby. Fourth choice in Haskell.
Vino Rosso – Fourth in Belmont. Favorite in Saturday’s Jim Dandy.
Solomini – Third in Affirmed. “Off-form,” turned out late June.
Firenze Fire – Won Dwyer. Mile and shorter moving forward.
Bolt d’Oro – 11th in Runhappy Met Mile. Transferred to Steve Asmussen.
Flameaway – Sixth in Ohio Derby. Third choice in Jim Dandy.
Enticed – Turned out after Derby.
Promises Fulfilled – Third in Woody Stephens. Third choice in Saturday’s Amsterdam. One-turn races.
Free Drop Billy – Seventh in Belmont. May try turf in Secretariat.
Noble Indy – 10th in Belmont. Bad seventh in Dwyer. Something not right.
Combatant – Dull fifth in Matt Winn. Training at Saratoga.
Magnum Moon – Retired with “structural injury to a front limb.” Stud career in limbo.
Mendelssohn – Third in Dwyer. Breeders’ Cup Classic remains the target.
The good news is, a lot of good horses still need to increase their potential stud value, which should strengthen the handicap division into next year.
3. Of the 3-year-olds who remain in training, who do you believe will go on to have the best career?
Joe’s answer: Good Magic would be the safe play here. He’s already accomplished quite a bit and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to be a force.
I expect Tenfold to have a coming out party in Saturday’s Jim Dandy. Steve Asmussen has taken a very patient approach with this son of Curlin and he continues to speak very highly of him. He almost won the Preakness and did not get a fair crack, at all, in the Belmont.
Even though I was disappointed in Mendelssohn’s rather dull third-place finish in the Dwyer, I still haven’t given up on him. He’s shown flashes of brilliance, and as a half to Beholder and Into Mischief, he certainly has pedigree on his side.
Forced to close into a slow pace, Gronkowski ran a monstrous second in the Belmont. Following a minor setback, he’s back in training at Saratoga, and Chad Brown is holding out hope he can make the Travers.
4. Is Good Magic a vulnerable favorite in the Haskell?
Joe’s answer: Good Magic is supposed to win on Sunday. He ran hard in the Derby and Preakness but he hasn’t missed a beat in his training since, and his main competition – Bravazo, Core Beliefs, and Lone Sailor – are what they are.
5. Who wins the Haskell and why?
Joe’s answer: Good Magic, because he’s the best horse in the race. I do think Lone Sailor will offer some value.
Joe’s Haskell picks: 1. Good Magic 2. Lone Sailor 3. Bravazo 4. Core Beliefs