Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) is a microcosm of this year’s three-year-old crop: a competitive field of seven with each entrant a legitimate win candidate in the right circumstances.
While Monmouth Park’s marquee race is valuable in its own right as a lucrative Grade 1, the Haskell is a "Win & You're In" for the Breeders' Cup Classic (G1). In the nearer term, it also has ramifications for the Travers (G1) at Saratoga. That role looms larger now after Saturday’s Jim Dandy (G2) boilover, in which turf performer Good Samaritan upset the respective winners of the Kentucky Derby (G1) and Preakness (G1) in Always Dreaming and Cloud Computing.
Here are my summary judgments on the Haskell field, in post position order:
Irish War Cry is dangerous when he gets into rhythm in his comfort zone, but it’s unclear if such a favorable scenario will unfold from his rail post, with other proper speed immediately to his outside.
Battle of Midway has made terrific progress for a horse unraced at two, but his Derby third may not be taken as an ironclad piece of form, and he faces a more complex scenario than his last-out cakewalk.
Timeline is perhaps the most exciting contender with the gaudiest BRIS Speed figures and the allure of an unbeaten, but other than his hot maiden score, he’s been beating up on inferior opposition, twice on sloppy tracks, and takes an acid test of class.
Practical Joke is a thoroughly admirable individual who brings his level best every time, but as top-class as he is at any distance, he still appears most lethal around one turn.
McCraken ranked as a serious classic hopeful whose season was compromised first by an ankle strain and then a deep puncture wound suffered in the Derby, but he may be poised to take a leap forward off his recent comeback score.
Hence is a typical feast-or-famine runner who needs things to fall into his lap, and his inconsistency makes him difficult to endorse with enthusiasm, particularly at the top level in a race where he may leave himself too much to do.
Girvin had his realistic Derby hopes dashed by foot trouble, but trainer Joe Sharp has been raving about how much he’s improved from his heroic loss last out, and he may work out the best outside stalking trip.
As you can deduce from those comments, I’m generally more positive toward McCraken (loyalty to my Derby pick?) and Girvin, with more hope than certainty that Timeline can ratify his big reputation. But literally nothing would surprise me.
McCraken photo courtesy Bill Denver/Equi-Photo