The Haskell Invitational

It’s the end of the weekend and we have a special Sunday edition of the blog. This week is the 9f Haskell Invitational, a GI $1 million dollar race from Monmouth Park in New Jersey. It’s the highlight of a weekend with 3 3YO races. At Saratoga, we’ve already seen Hofburg capture the Curlin on Friday and Tenfold took the Jim Dandy on Saturday.

This race begins with Good Magic, who is among the leaders in this now-open division (with the retirement of Justify.) His resume includes wins in the GI Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and in the G2 Blue Grass. He had a strong second in the Kentucky Derby, finishing only 2 1/2 lengths behind Justify. He finished a close 4th in the Preakness. He’s run a 100 Beyer — in last’s year Juvenile but hasn’t reached a new level this year. He may be good enough to win today without improvement, but he won’t be at the top of the division unless he moves forward.

Bravazo was part of that close finish in the Preakness. He’s certainly moved forward this year — putting up 4 of 5 90+ Beyers in his last 5 starts. He tops out with a 96 in the Preakness. It’s tough to read how much he moved forward in the slop, I don’t quite think he’s as good as he was in the Preakness and is probably too slow to win here today. Core Beliefs and Lone Sailor both exit the Ohio Derby. Core Beliefs, who got up by a nose, has been steadily on the improve all season. He ran a 94 Beyer in the Ohio Derby.  Lone Sailor, who also earned a 94 Beyer in the Ohio Derby, ran well in the Preakness as well. He is 1 for 11 — running in top races, but still not finding the winner’s circle since his second start.

Golden Brown seems better on the turf and he’s too slow. Navy Commander won a local prep in the Long Branch but his 84 Beyer is too slow for this race. Roaming Union, who finished second in a different local prep, could be on the improve with the third start in the cycle. He hasn’t found the winner’s circle enough to be a serious contender.

Analysis: I like trying to beat Good Magic, who will play a role in the race. But at 6-5 (or worse), I think there’s risk with this horse if another one improves. Core Beliefs has been improving and can continue to improve. He’s only made 6 starts and it took him to his 3rd start to figure it out. I wouldn’t be surprised if he has another gear and shows it at Monmouth.


The Belmont Stakes

12 furlongs on Belmont’s main track. Not your typical race for 3YO’s as they enter the summer. It’s an arcane distance, but one that also tests stamina, conditioning, and breeding. It’s a fitting conclusion to the Triple Crown and one that requires a uniquely special horse to win, especially after capturing the first two legs.

This is Justify’s race to lose. He’s the fastest runner in the field and is likely bred to handle the distance — a son of the late Scat Daddy. There is concern that he regressed a bit in the Preakness — running his first sub-100 Beyer — and further regression would bring him right into the middle of the field. He could be tired — he’s run 5 races in a row without a break. Or it could have been the Pimlico surface on Preakness day which slowed him down. There’s risk with Justify entering the Belmont, especially at a low price. I still expect him to win and rebound — and win the Triple Crown. He’s just too talented (although that hasn’t stopped many from completing the last leg.)

If Justify regresses or doesn’t handle the distance, there are a number of horses that can pass him for the win. Bravazo has run 3 of 4 90+ Beyers and finished only a 1/2 length back in the Preakness after a strong 6th in the Kentucky Derby. Hofburg, a son of Tapit, has flashed potential without winning. He finished 2nd to Audible in the Florida Derby and ran a good 7th in the Kentucky Derby. He skipped the Preakness and is fresh for the Belmont try. He’s likely to really appreciate the distance. He’s second choice on the morning line, despite still being eligible for an N1X. Tenfold is lightly raced but moved forward to be in the pack at the finish line in Preakness. A talented son of Curlin out of a Tapit mare, he should have the stamina for today’s race.

Vino Rosso has run 2 Beyer Speed Figures of 100 or better and finished in the top half of the Derby field. Because of this speed, he had a longshot chance in the Derby where he was wide. He’ll come off the pace and could loom a “Birdstone” type threat to Justify in the final furlong, especially if there is a contested pace. Noble Indy, who along with Vino Rosso, is trained by Todd Pletcher, could apply this pace pressure. He’s unlikely to possess the stamina to win the race, however.

Blended Citizen is an interesting entry. He came off the pace while wide and won the GIII Peter Pan over this track back in May. He’s likely too slow to find the top spot, but could complete exactas and trifectas. Gronkowski is a wildcard. He’s probably not fast enough to compete with these horses, but Chad Brown doesn’t run just to run, so he needs to be respected. Free Drop Billy is a son of 2012 Belmont winner Union Rags, but would need to improve — even if you throw out his 41-length loss in the Derby. Restoring Hope, the other entry from Bob Baffert (trainer of Justify), has only won 1 race — a restricted maiden at Santa Anita in February. A son of Giant’s Causeway out of a Tapit mare, the breeding is there for a good performance, but he’s yet to show the necessary speed on the track.

Analysis: I think Justify is simply too fast to lose this race and that the competition isn’t quite at his level. A speed meltdown could doom him (think American Pharoah in the Travers) and open the door for closers such as Vino Rosso. We very well could see another Triple Crown winner — just years after some deemed it an impossible task for the contemporary thoroughbred.

The Preakness

Justify should win the Preakness. He’s already an amazing colt — he broke the “Curse of Apollo” — something that I strongly believed in. He’s an undefeated Derby winner. He’s started his career with four Beyer Speed Figures over 100. He’s a very deserving 1/5 morning line. The one X-factor is the sloppy track — it’s been really wet in Baltimore for days and it should continue tomorrow. He won on a sloppy track in the Derby, of course, but every track is different. I’m not terribly concerned about the track condition, although he did run slightly slower in the slop at Churchill than he had been on the fast track of Santa Anita.

If, for some reason, he doesn’t bring his “A” game (remember he still is a relatively inexperienced colt), Good Magic could be there and ready to pounce. He was game in defeat in the Derby and ran his fastest Beyer of the year in the Derby. He could very well be peaking and this form may put up a career-best performance. Would that be enough to make up the 2 1/2 lengths between them if Justify regresses? Likely not, but Good Magic has the best chance of pulling the upset. Tenfold is inexperienced, but finished only 4 1/2 lengths back of Magnum Moon in the Arkansas Derby. He’s only made three career starts and very well could improve in his fourth. He’s 20-1 on the M/L and could offer value on top as a win bet and underneath in an exacta. Quip is an interesting horse. Even though he had the points for the Derby, his connections chose to skip the race and point to the Preakness instead. He’s likely to improve in his 3rd start of the year. Brazavo is likely too slow, but has D. Wayne Lukas, 6th-time winner of the Preakness, in his corner (Lukas also trains Sporting Chance). He finished a good sixth in the Derby. Lone Sailor ran fast in the Lousiana Derby and finished a respectable eighth in Louisville. Like most in this race, he likely too slow to catch Justify on his “B” game. Diamond King was too slow for the Peter Pan and is way too slow for the Preakness. He’d need to move way up because of the track surface to hit the board.

Analysis: There’s no money to be made betting Justify to win, so I’ll try to match him up in an exacta with Tenfold and Quip (and Lone Sailor, if the prices permit it.)

Good luck at the races!


Is California Chrome lucky?

California Chrome is lucky. At least that’s what a rival trainer told me yesterday. Easy pace in the Derby. Perfect trip with only a half-decent close in the Preakness.

Those are solid points, and ones that we’re likely to forget in our Triple Crown daze. Still, some horses tend to find trouble, while others — usually possessing tactical speed — tend to find good trips. I’ll stick with the latter on Chrome, but let’s be clear. Under no reasonable measure is he a good bet at 3/5. This is just one of many risk factors for him.

Preakness Recap: How Champions Look

Greatness comes from everywhere.  Even from a $2,500 Stud Fee and a $8,000 mare.  California Chrome looked all the part of a champion today.  Social Inclusion ran well — right up to him on the turn — and California Chrome had more.  When Ride on Curlin made a solid run at his down the final furlong, I yelled at the TV “DIG DEEP!” as to implore the big fella to fight on for another hundred yards.  He obliged, quite willingly.

Ride on Curlin ran well out of the Derby, and Social Inclusion was solid off both the injury and the foot bruise.  Not sure that anyone else really impressed at all in this group.  There will be plenty of return shooters from the Kentucky Derby in three weeks at Belmont, plus some notable new shooters, like Tonalist and Commisioner, who both come ran in the Peter Pan Stakes.

It will be an exciting three weeks, with coverage of the sport at its likely highest level since Smarty Jones’ Belmont try in 2004.  We’ll be back with the race of the day on Monday at around 6:00 ET with the 4th race from Hastings Racecourse in Vancouver.

Four Questions for the Preakness

This is the easiest rooting race all year.  We’d all like to see the Derby winner, California Chrome (#3, 3-5), heading off to Belmont with a chance at the Triple Crown.  You should root for him.  But whether you should bet him or not — especially at the dangerously low price of 3/5 — is another story all together. At times like these, I’m a huge proponent of rooting with your heart, but backing horses with your head. This doesn’t imply that California Chrome isn’t the best on paper — just like in Louisville two weeks ago, he is.  No one has run faster than him.  He ran a slow Derby, but it was still faster than anybody else. That is a huge point, and speed is never to be ignored. The key to analyzing this race is to figure out what the important data is and to ignore all the noise — like the feelings in your heart — that get in the way.

The race boils down to four key questions:

Will California Chrome continue to run at a high level or will the constant exertion tarnish his form?  

If he runs his best race, he is likely very hard to beat.  But it’s hard to know whether that will happen.  All the time, horses don’t run well who were supposed to be contenders. They are not machines.  If he falters, it opens up the race.

Will there be greater pace in this race than the Derby? 

The general thought is that there will be, but this is always a dangerous question. Jockeys can see the presence of pace on paper before the race, and this young horse may be able to adopt a new style.  So, it’s an imperfect and risky base for your handicapping.

How much will Kid Cruz (#7, 20-1) be able to close at Pimlico?

The Preakness has a reputation as a front-running race, but horses can close at route consistently in Baltimore.  If Kid Cruz is good enough, and he’d have to improve to do so, then he could.  Certainly have to like him to hit the board.

Is Social Inclusion (#8, 5-1) better than California Chrome?

He ran with a blistering pace in the Wood Memorial after a sensational effort at Gulfstream where we soundly beat the highly-regarded Honor Code. He missed the Derby by finishing third in that race — otherwise, he would likely would have been a factor there.  He’s plenty fast, and if the pace is lighter, he very well may have more in the tank than California Chrome.

How you answer these questions should help you find your horse for Saturday’s Preakness!