SARATOGA SPRINGS – A highly competitive group of 3-year-olds will assemble Sunday afternoon at Monmouth Park with hopes of jumping into the divisional race with a victory.
With Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing both faltering in yesterday’s Jim Dandy at Saratoga, the race for champion 3-year-old has taken an interesting turn.
Irish War Cry (5-2), a New Jersey-bred colt, will headline a field of seven in the $1 million Grade 1 Betfair.com Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, New Jersey. The field includes six of seven horses that competed in this year’s Kentucky Derby with several of the horses coming off wins in their post-Derby races.
The 1 1/8-mile race is Race 12 on Monmouth’s signature day and will go to post at 5:47 p.m. The race will be televised nationally on NBC (Ch. 2) in an hour-long broadcast from 5-6 p.m. EDT. The winner will receive an automatic berth into the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar Thoroughbred Club on Nov. 4
Let’s take a look at the competitors (post position, trainer, jockey, morning line odds in parenthesis):
1 – Irish War Cry (Motion, Maragh, 5-2). Morning line and sentimental favorite drew the rail on the speed-favoring track. Owned by Isabella de Tomaso, the daughter of the late Amory L. Haskell, for whom the race is named. Motion will leave it up to Maragh on whether to go to the lead or take back early. Runner-up in last month’s Belmont Stakes overtaken in the final furlong after being on the lead for 9 furlongs. It will be an interesting trophy presentation if the NJ-bred wins. Son of Curlin who won the 2007 Breeders’ Cup Classic on a sloppy Monmouth surface. He is in a tough spot being on the rail inside the speed, using underneath in exotics.
2 – Battle of Midway (Hollendorfer, Prat, 5-1). California speed has won this race in the past and the son of Smart Strike will most likely be on or around the early lead. Inside position should help his cause and if his speed carries him he should hit the board, if not win outright. He won the Grade 3 Affirmed at Santa Anita last out handily. Dangerous.
3 – Timeline (Brown, Castellano, 3-1). Trainer Chad Brown and jockey Javier Castellano will both be seeking their inaugural Haskell victory. As my colleague Ed Fountaine from Newsday told me in the paddock in Saratoga, “Never discount an undefeated horse.” The son of Hard Spun will be looking for his fifth straight win coming out of a local prep win in the Grade 3 Pegasus S. Another that figures to on or near the lead.
4 – Practical Joke (Brown, Rosario, 4-1). Rosario will look to complete a Dandy-Haskell double after his win aboard Good Samaritan. The second Brown entry in the race probably ran the best Derby than any of the other entrants in the Haskell. He backed up his fifth-place Derby finish with an impressive win in the Grade 3 Dwyer at Belmont Park. Has the speed to work out a good trip from this spot.
5 – McCraken (Wilkes, Hernandez, 9-2). Talented son of Ghostzapper that comes out of the Grade 3 Matt Winn, a race Gun Runner won before finishing a well-beaten second to Exaggerator last year. His running style really doesn’t match up with the speed-favoring track. He is better suited to Saratoga as his trainer all but admitted earlier in the week. The Grade 1 type is what steered the connections to Monmouth versus the Dandy.
6 – Hence (Asmussen, Lopez, 12-1). The son of Street Boss’ best chance is a speed duel where he picks up the pieces late. Some class questions exist based on his performances in the Derby and Preakness. He won the Grade 3 Iowa Derby convincingly at Prairie Meadows against lesser competition. Worth a backup win bet if his odds soar and the track is lightning fast.
7 – Girvin (Sharp, Albarado, 8-1). The son of Tale of Ekati was nosed out of an Ohio Derby win by Irap, who in turn returned to win the Indiana Derby impressively. Struggled in the Kentucky Derby to finish 13th, the only major blemish on his resume. If you believe Irap is the real deal, he could exact some value if his form continues to improve. Hedging.
Speed rules at Monmouth and we’ll take the horses that are most likely to have the stamina to carry through the wire.
Post Time Outlook: 1 – Practical Joke; 2 – Timeline; 3 – Battle of Midway; 4 – Irish War Cry
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.