Using History to Handicap the 2021 Haskell Stakes

Racing
Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (inside, light blue jockey cap) takes a slight early lead in the 2015 Haskell Stakes, a race he would win by 2 ¼ lengths. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Get ready, racing fans! The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series takes a big turn on Saturday, July 17 with the running of the $1 million, Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. The prestigious 1 1/8-mile event for three-year-old Thoroughbreds serves as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier to the Nov. 6 Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic at Del Mar.

The Haskell has long ranked as one of the most important steppingstones toward the Breeders’ Cup. In fact, three of the last seven Haskell winners went on to add the Classic to their glowing résumés.

Who will prevail in the 2021 Haskell? Reviewing the recent history of the race can help solve the mystery by uncovering recurring trends and tendencies among the previous winners.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s dig into the data, come up with some selections, and start counting down the hours until NBC Sports’ television coverage of the Haskell begins at 5 p.m. ET:

Speed horses have the advantage

For the most part, it pays to favor speed horses in the Haskell. As is typical of North American dirt racing, horses with tactical speed hold an advantage in Monmouth’s signature race, with 12 of the last 15 winners parlaying pacesetting, pressing, or stalking tactics into victory. No fewer than 11 of those 15 were racing first, second, or third after the opening half mile, suggesting you don’t want to fall too far off the early Haskell tempo.

Year

Winner

Position after first 1/2-mile

1/2-mile & 3/4-mile (track condition)

2020

Authentic

1st by 1 length (7 starters)

47.52, 1:11.50 (fast)

2019

Maximum Security

3rd by 0.5 lengths (6 starters)

46.71, 1:10.17 (fast)

2018

Good Magic

2nd by 2.5 lengths (7 starters)

46.83, 1:11.48 (fast)

2017

Girvin

7th by 6.25 lengths (7 starters)

47.34, 1:11.25 (fast)

2016

Exaggerator

6th by 4.75 lengths (6 starters)

46.62, 1:11.00 (sloppy)

2015

American Pharoah

2nd by 1 length (7 starters)

46.14, 1:09.60 (fast)

2014

Bayern

1st by 0.5 lengths (9 starters)

47.66, 1:11.16 (fast)

2013

Verrazano

2nd by 0.5 lengths (7 starters

48.22, 1:12.43 (fast)

2012

Paynter

3rd by 0.5 lengths (6 starters)

48.01, 1:11.37 (fast)

2011

Coil

8th by 5.5 lengths (8 starters)

47.02, 1:10.68 (fast)

2010

Lookin At Lucky

4th by 2 lengths (7 starters)

47.95, 1:12.51 (fast)

2009

Rachel Alexandra

2nd by 0.5 lengths (7 starters)

46.43, 1:09.92 (sloppy)

2008

Big Brown

2nd by 1.5 lengths (7 starters)

46.59, 1:10.85 (fast)

2007

Any Given Saturday

3rd by 2.5 lengths (7 starters)

47.11, 1:10.70 (fast)

2006

Bluegrass Cat

3rd by 4 lengths (9 starters)

47.52, 1:11.85 (fast)

Favor veterans of the Triple Crown

Almost without exception, the Haskell is won by a horse who competed in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, Grade 1 Preakness, and/or Grade 1 Belmont Stakes, the three legs of the Triple Crown. Check out the stats, and you’ll find 13 of the last 15 Haskell winners (and 25 of the last 30) had previously contested at least one leg of the Triple Crown.

We did see an exception in 2020, when Authentic took home top honors, but it’s worth noting the 2020 Haskell was contested before the Kentucky Derby and Preakness as part of a racing calendar restructured due to COVID-19.

Count on proven route runners

Girvin wins in 2017. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Sprinters unproven running one mile or farther rarely (if ever?) win the Haskell. Indeed, every Haskell champion since at least 1981 (a span of 40 years) had previously won a race over one mile or longer, so betting proven route runners is the way to go in the Haskell.

Look for established stakes winners

Almost as remarkable as the route runners statistic is the fact 41 of the last 42 Haskell winners had previously won a stakes. The lone exception to this tried-and-true trend was Paynter, who won the 2012 Haskell after finishing second by a neck in the Belmont Stakes.

Bet on favorites and be wary of longshots

Longshot winners are uncommon in the Haskell. Nine of the last 13 winners started as the favorite (an impressive 69% success rate), while three other Haskell winners went off as the second betting choice at odds no higher than 9-2.

But wait, there’s more. Only one Haskell winner has started at higher than 9-2 since 1992, and that lone winner – the accomplished Girvin – didn’t exactly shock the world when he prevailed at 9.20-1 in 2017. The battles for second and third place have been similarly predictable; of the 45 horses to finish in the Haskell trifecta over the last 15 years, 39 of them (87%) started at single-digit odds.

Favor horses with stamina-oriented pedigrees

Sprinters don’t typically sire Haskell winners – that much can be determined from even a brief glance at the pedigrees of recent Haskell champions. The Haskell is practically a fourth leg of the Triple Crown, and horses with classic breeding tend to dominate the 1 1/8-mile race.

Case in point? Seven of the last 11 Haskell winners were sired by a stallion who competed in a Triple Crown race. Furthermore, the four sires who defied this trend (Smart Strike, Awesome Again, New Year’s Day, and Into Mischief) were all Grade 1 winners running 1 1/16 miles or farther. Talent and stamina are genetic qualities passed down from generation to generation, and if a horse is going to vie for victory in the Haskell, it helps to have a pedigree geared toward success in the classics.

Conclusions

Hot Rod Charlie (Eclipse Sportswire)

Bob Baffert-trained runners have racked up nine wins in the Haskell since 2000, but it appears Baffert will not saddle a starter in the 2021 Haskell. That leaves the race a bit more wide-open than usual. A strong field is expected to enter, with Triple Crown alumni Hot Rod Charlie, Mandaloun, and Midnight Bourbon the key names to know.

All three performed admirably in the spring classics. Hot Rod Charlie crossed the wire third in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve before settling for second in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, beaten 1 ¼ lengths after carving out a fast pace. Mandaloun went one better than Hot Rod Charlie in the Derby, crossing the wire second. Meanwhile, Midnight Bourbon was sixth across the line in the Derby before rebounding to finish second in the Preakness Stakes.

Tactical speed is an asset for all three colts, so favorable trips should be in offing. All are stakes winners proven over one mile or farther. All will be short prices in the betting. And all are sons of Grade 1-winning route runners, though only Hot Rod Charlie – a son of 2013 Preakness winner Oxbow – can claim a Triple Crown veteran as his sire.

Unfortunately, history struggles to split Hot Rod Charlie, Mandaloun, and Midnight Bourbon. Based on the historical profile of a typical Haskell winner, they all seem roughly equal, with Hot Rod Charlie possibly holding a slight advantage.

History is more effective in building a case against some of the other main Haskell contenders. Exciting Belmont Park allowance winner Following Sea is bound to attract wagering support, but he skipped the Triple Crown, is untested beyond sprint distances, has yet to win a stakes, and is a son of champion sprinter Runhappy. Following Sea unquestionably has talent, but that’s a formidable quartet of historical trends to conquer.

Grade 3 Gotham Stakes winner Weyburn is a better fit for the historical profile, and he gave Mandaloun quite a scare when finishing second by a neck in Monmouth’s Pegasus Stakes last month. But Weyburn is likely to be a double-digit longshot in the betting, and the fact he skipped the Triple Crown suggests the Haskell winner’s circle may prove elusive.

Good luck, and enjoy the race!

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