Run at 1 1/8 miles, Saturday’s $1 million, Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park is a mid-summer jewel for 3-year-olds. It’s also part of the “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series Presented by America’s Best Racing, and is an automatic qualifier for the Nov. 2 Breeders’ Cup Classic. The race will feature the top two finishers from the TVG.com Pegasus Stakes, last month’s local Haskell prep, as King for a Day and Maximum Security are back for a rematch and are taking on some new challengers. The questions for this blog have been sourced from Twitter, offering some welcome discussion on this important and prestigious race.
1. “Is it safe to say the Haskell is a must win for Maximum Security?” – @jeffbyrnes96
In terms of the wide open 3-year-old division, certainly a win in the Haskell moves Maximum Security up in the polls. There is not much that separates one horse from another, and even with the disqualification in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, many still credit his winning effort in that race toward his overall standing. Right now, Maximum Security just has one graded stakes win from earlier this year in the Grade 1 Xpressbet Florida Derby, and he’ll need to pad that record to keep his name in the mix for the end-of-the-year awards.
2. “The Haskell field, it looks fast paced.” – @Capper_RMac
The pace scenario in this race is an interesting one. Certainly, on paper there appears to be a fast pace in the works for Saturday given the running style of many in this field. Most of the Haskell field has had success when racing no less than two lengths off the pacesetter at the first point of call. This has been a familiar theme through many of the Derby preps, and even in the Triple Crown events when forecasting the pace scenario. While the pace in Saturday’s Haskell should be contentious given the running style of horses like Joevia and Spun to Run, the race shape and pace does not necessarily set up for a closer in my opinion, and a horse that is forwardly placed and who has some class and a good finishing kick could get an ideal trip and be in good position to win.
3. “Everfast could get a setup in the Haskell” – @derby1592
Everfast does come into the Haskell as the lone horse in the field with some success running from off the pace. It is worth noting, though, that his level of success has come in terms of securing minor awards, and many of those were aided by the pace in a particular race, the racetrack it was run on, and, at times, both. He was able to get the right race flow to pass tiring horses and finish second in the Preakness Stakes, and he benefited from racing on the inside, a favorable part of the racing surface that day at Pimlico. Given the way the Haskell looks on paper, and noting that jockey Julien Leparoux is riding Everfast for the first time, it’s very likely that he’ll be taken back, settle near the rail, and try to make a run from off the pace. Everfast will need help from a swift early pace, and he’ll also need the Monmouth surface to play “fair” – which is something that should be monitored when watching the earlier races on the Haskell card. From time to time, big race cards can lead to sped-up racing surfaces, and especially given the expected hot weather on Saturday, it will be important to pay attention to how the main dirt track plays.
4. “Can [Bob Baffert] get it done for a record ninth time?” – @racing_dudes
Certainly, one of the main talking points about this race concerns the presence of Bob Baffert, who’s won the Haskell a record eight times. He will ship in Mucho Gusto, a horse with a different résumé than his previous Haskell winners such as Point Given and American Pharoah. Outside of Mucho Gusto’s juvenile appearance in the Grade 1 Los Alamitos CashCall Futurity last December, this colt has been racing exclusively in Grade 3 events. He is a multiple stakes winner at that level, though it must be noted his efforts have been just good, not great. He has yet to really run a race that suggests he can compete when stepping up in class, and that’s something to consider on Saturday, regardless of how “strong” this field is. In terms of speed figures, his OptixFIG numbers are on the lower end of this race par, and Mucho Gusto has not shown much progression in that department from his juvenile races to his 3-year-old season. He is far from impossible and certainly has the right trainer in his corner – still, it seems he will need to run the race of his career to win the Haskell.
5. “Who is your pick?” – @BreedersCup
Thankfully, the question is who is the “pick” rather than who I’m going to bet, and in that case the pick goes to Maximum Security. In many ways, this is his race to lose. He is the lone Grade 1 winner in the field, and that’s not counting the Kentucky Derby. In terms of speed figures, his numbers consistently fit with this race par and they stack up favorably against his rivals. He has a preferred running style of tracking close to the pace, and still has some finishing ability. In terms of form, he looks capable of running his race once again even coming off the second-place finish in the Pegasus Stakes last month at Monmouth. He will receive a change in post position and that should be beneficial, giving him options after he breaks to the outside of the other horses. He has the right to move forward off of his Pegasus effort, as he might have needed the race in terms of fitness. Losing his footing at the start of the Pegasus should also be taken into consideration.
The Pegasus Stakes winner, King for a Day, is an improving type coming into the Haskell. He has impressed in both of his starts this year, and should be ready for this graded stakes test on Saturday. In his lone graded stakes appearance last fall at Churchill Downs, he put forth a competitive effort, as he finished fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes after stumbling after the start and getting a less-than-ideal trip.
This next horse is not the most logical contender in the field, and he’d need a career-best effort to win, but Bethlehem Road is worth a look at a price. He should find the main track at Monmouth Park to his liking given his forwardly placed running style. That was not the case last out when he ran a distant fourth in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby. He did not seem to handle the track and was caught racing outside of horses close to the pace, and using the outer paths seemed to be a disadvantage that day at Thistledown.
As always, good luck this weekend, and any questions can be sent in on Twitter @EmilyOptixEQ for Saturday’s Haskell, as well as for future races. The next “Five Questions” will analyze the Grade 1 Whitney Stakes on Aug. 3 at Saratoga.