Horse racing fans all over the world will be focused this afternoon on the 41st running of the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and the return of former Triple Crown hopeful Big Brown. The Haskell will be the final leg of an “all stakes Pick 4″ sequence, and offers handicappers a chance to escape with what appears to be a “free square”, effectively reducing the sequence to a glorified pick 3.
The 3-year-old son of Boundary has been on the shelf since that nightmare in the Belmont back in early June. Trainer Rick Dutrow and owner Michael Iavarone of IEAH Stables have been searching for answers trying to figure out what went wrong that fateful day. In the process, there relationship has become, in Iavarone’s words: “strained.” Photographs showing what appears to be a loose shoe and a nail penetrating his hoof (not to mention the insufferable heat/humidity that day) provided all the excuses I needed to draw a line through that last effort.
Now the super-colt returns of a series of stunning workouts, most notably a highly acclaimed 6 furlong move on July 26 at Aqueduct. Curiously, Big Brown also had a 3 furlong workout on the turf at Aqueduct on Friday, August 1st. Most likely this was just an attempt to stretch him out a bit and the move to the turf was a final precaution to ensure his feet didn’t take a pounding heading into the Haskell.
All systems would appear to be “go” for Sunday as a field of 7 vies for the Haskell. The rest of the field only has 2 graded stakes victories amongst them; a grade 2 victory in the Fountain of Youth for Cool Coal Man, and a grade 3 victory in the Barbaro Stakes last out for Magical Forest.
The field with jockeys and odds for the Haskell sets up like this:
- Magical Forest (J.F. Chavez) – 10/1
- Cool Coal Man (E. Castro) – 4/1
- Alaazo (J. Lezcano) – 30/1
- Big Brown (K. Desormeaux) – 1/2*
- Nistle’s Crunch (E. Trujillo) – 15/1
- Coal Play (J. Bravo) – 8/1
- Atoned (E. Prado) – 6/1
Right off the bat you’ll notice that there’s not a lot of pure front running speed in the Haskell. Trying to figure out the early pace is a bit of a head scratcher. I’m going to guess that Magical Forest down on the rail will be most inclined to go for the lead, andthe rest of the field will probably gladly spot him a length or so up front. One thing is for certain though, Big Brown won’t be far behind and I’m sure he’ll be breathing down his neck rather than allowing anything like the trip Da’ Tara received in the Belmont to repeat itself.
Most of the field prefer to stalk around 3rd position, andI expect a fairly bunched up group close in behind the early pace. Cool Coal Man, Big Brown, Nistle’s Crunch, and Coal Play will likely make up this group. I could see Alaazo and Atoned content to track at the back of the pack early on.
As the field enters the final turn, I expect Big Brown to be inching his nose in front. Once on the lead there should be no looking for back him. Either he returns as the Big Brown we all know from his Triple Crown run and smashes this field by 5+ lengths, or something horrible occurs and he finishes out of the money. It just seems impossible to imagine any of these running past a healthy Big Brown in the stretch.
Trying to figure out place and show runners is the real challenge for handicappers. Cool Coal Man should be sent at just about the same time as Big Brown. I could see him getting past Magical Forest and being the only horse with a real shot to upset Big Brown. I’m still not seeing him being quick enough in the stretch though as he’s never posted a triple digit Beyer speed figure.
I think you have to respect speed at Monmouth, andas such I’ll leave Magical Forest around in place on my trifecta ticket as well. Magical Forest was flattered a bit yesterday when Ready Set (third place in Magical Forest’s victory in the G3 Barbaro Stakes on 7/13) came back to win the West Virginia Derby.
Nistle’s Crunch and Atoned are the x-factors of the race for me. Nistle’s Crunch is exiting 3 consecutive turf tries that saw him place and show at the G3 level. He has been effective at today’s 1 1/8 mile distance owning a 2 for3 lifetime record. Atoned ads blinkers for trainer Todd Pletcher and is a notorious 2nd place finisher (3 slices in 5 starts this year).
Alaazo and Coal Play appear to be a bit outmatched to me on paper, but Coal Play was able to generate the fields only 100+ Beyer speed figure outside of Big Brown, so I’ll leave him around for show honors. Alaazo is the one I think you can safely toss. He just hasn’t shown me he can run with these types.
For those looking to build a pick 4 ticket around Big Brown, here’s how I see the preceding races – with the obvious single on Big Brown to wind things up:
Race 10: The 42nd Running of the Grade 3 Taylor Made Matchmaker (1 1/8 Miles – Turf)
- #6 Dyna’s Lassie (8/1)
- #3 J’ray (7/2*)
- #8 Social Queen (5/1)
- #5 Paris Winds (6/1)
- #4 Waquoit’s Love (9/2)
I’m going to go fairly deep in Race 10 and cover #3 J’ray (7/2), #4 Waquoit’s Love (9/2), #5 Paris Winds (6/1), #6 Dyna’s Lassie (8/1), and #8 Social Queen (5/1). Being honest with myself I know I’m not anywhere near as good a turf handicapper as I am on dirt, so I’ll spread deep and give myself enough coverage to feel confident that I’ll be alive after the first leg. I really think any of these guys can win and to be honest I’m a little worried about leaving off #7 Eclisse, but you’ve got to take a stand somewhere(if you can call going 5 deep “taking a stand” on anything). Hopefully we’ll catch some value here as a reward for going deep. I actually prefer #6 Dyna’s Lassie here at 8/1, for what it’s worth.
Race 11: The Lady’s Secret (1 1/16 Miles – Dirt)
- #5 Talkin About Love (9/2)
- #6 Rolling Sea (4/1)
- #8 Peach Flambe (7/2*)
There looks to be a good amount of front running and speed types in the Lady’s Secret. I thought this would set up beautifully for #5 Talkin About Love (9/2). #6 Rolling Sea (4/1) also figures to get a favorable trip and is a multiple Grade 2 winner that I don’t think can be left off the ticket. Of the speed types, #8 Peach Flambe looks most useful. She’s been defeated by Hysterical Lady and Buy the Barrel in recent efforts, but was also 2nd to Ginger Punch back in January. I feel she matches up class wise with this field, but I think the 7/2 luke warm favoritism is an indication of how vulnerable she is coming off a 2 month layoff.
Race 12: The 62nd Running of the Grade 3 Oceanport (1 1/16 Miles – Turf)
- #7 Presious Passion (5/2*)
- #4 SIlver Tree (7/2)
- #3 Ruff and Ready (6/1)
The Oceanport may be the lynch pin to the entire pick 4. Assuming we’ve made it this far, I felt you could probably rely on the classy Presious Passion up front in an attempt to take them from gate to wire. He’s been a winner at the Grade 1, 2, and 3 levels and looks to be the one to catch. #4 Silver Tree has won at the Grade 2 and 3 levels and has had a very productive 2008 campaign (4-2-3-0). Kent Desormeaux’s been aboard for 2 of his last 3 victories and they are reunited today. He should get a great stalking trip and would have a good chance to gun down Presious Passion in the stretch if that one were to falter. Ruff and Ready may be the upset specialist here. You have to go back to January and Februaryto find his last wins, but note that he defeated both Presious Passion and Silver Tree on 2/14. Hmmmmmmm. Also note that he’s been matched up against Kip Deville and Einstein before. I think this guy may be ready to roll and he may have needed that last race at Delaware Park where Silver Tree got him by a length.
All Stakes Pick 4 Ticket: ($45)
- Race 10: 3,4,5,6,8
- Race 11: 5,6,8
- Race 12: 3,4,7
- Race 13: 4
As always, best of luck to all of you. Be sure to check for late changes/scratches and make sure you get a look at the field during the post parade for race 10 so you can factor their appearances into the equation.