Five Takeaways You Need to Know from a Key Weekend Headlined by Haskell Stakes

Geaux Rocket Ride, Mike Smith, Haskell Stakes, Monmouth Park, Richard Mandella
Geaux Rocket Ride, ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, after winning the 2023 Haskell Stakes July 22 at Monmouth Park. (Eclipse Sportswire)

Tom Pedulla presents five key takeaways from the $1 million Haskell Stakes on Saturday at Monmouth Park, the $500,000 ,Grade 1 Coaching Club American Oaks on Saturday at Saratoga Race Course, and other major developments this weekend.

Richard Mandella, Geaux Rocket Ride, Haskell Stakes
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella (Eclipse Sportswire)

RIGHT TIME: Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella ventured from his West Coast base to win the Haskell with Dixie Union in 2000. He then waited 23 years before returning to the centerpiece of Monmouth Park’s summer meet with Geaux Rocket Ride. “I was waiting for the right horse,” Mandella explained. “We think this is the right horse for the right race at the right time.” And, yes, he was right. Geaux Rocket Ride, cooly ridden by Mike Smith, secured an automatic, fees-paid berth in the Nov. 4 Longines Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita Park when he repelled Kentucky Derby presented by Woodford Reserve winner Mage by 1 ¾ lengths in the Haskell in only his fourth career start.

SUPER COMEBACK: Nest, a star 3-year-old filly, may be even more special at 4. The three-time Grade 1 winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up was most impressive in returning from an eight-month layoff and dispatching accomplished 5-year-old mare Clairiere by 2 ¼ lengths in the $200,000 Shuvee Stakes on Sunday at Saratoga. “I’m super proud of the filly,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. “She’s all class and it’s nice to see her come back and get back on track. We got a bit of a delayed start, but she showed she’s still in top-class form.” Nest is considered probable for the Aug. 25 Personal Ensign Stakes at Saratoga, where she is 3-for-3.

SAGE ADVICE: Trainer Brad Cox is careful not to give too many instructions to accomplished rider Flavien Prat. He did share one important thought, though, before giving the veteran a leg up on Wet Paint for the Coaching Club American Oaks. “Ride her like a turf horse,” the trainer said. In other words, Prat needed to be exceedingly patient with the late-running 3-year-old filly. If allowed to do things her way, her history says she will come charging. “This is her thing in regards to just kind of flopping out of the gate and finding her way and finishing up,” said Cox. Prat’s willingness to abide by Wet Paint’s wishes contributed to her first Grade 1 triumph in the Coaching Club American Oaks.

Forte, Arcangelo, Mage, Triple Crown, Belmont Stakes, NTRA 3-year-old poll
Forte at Belmont Park before the Belmont Stakes (Eclipse Sportswire)

BLINKERS ON: Hall of Fame trainer Todd Pletcher will make a key change by adding blinkers when Forte competes in the $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes next Saturday at Saratoga. The Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets runner-up worked in the new equipment this past Saturday, covering four furlongs in :50 as he drilled in company with stablemate Emmanuel. Pletcher had contemplated the change for some time. “In the Florida Derby, he lost concentration a little bit around the far turn and fortunately enough he was able to rally and get up in time. He sort of did the same thing in the Belmont,” the trainer noted. “We thought in his breeze last week he was kind of more focused on what the horse next to him is doing rather than what he should be doing.”

CHANGING SCENE: The prestigious Aug. 26 Travers Stakes added one likely starter and almost surely lost another based on the results of Friday’s Curlin Stakes at Saratoga. Scotland, making his two-turn and stakes debut for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott, was extremely impressive in controlling the $135,000 Curlin from start to finish. “Obviously the Travers is a different race and different competition,” Mott said. “I’m sure we’ll have that debate with the racing managers and the owners, but I’m sure the Travers would be up on the list.” Blazing Sevens, who narrowly missed catching National Treasure in the Preakness, wound up a disappointing third. “He certainly did not run well enough to go on to the big race,” said Chad Brown, his trainer.

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