Racing Roundtable: Takeaways from opening weekend at Saratoga, Haskell weekend preview
In this week's Racing Roundtable, James Scully, Kellie Reilly, and Ashley Anderson explore the main takeaways from the Diana S. (G1) at Saratoga, which juvenile has impressed the most at the Spa, and look ahead to the Haskell S. (G1) on July 23.
What is your main takeaway from the Diana?
James Scully: The longest shot among four Chad Brown runners, In Italian stepped up with a top-class performance in the Diana, elevating her status in the filly and mare turf division. She established a new course record (1 1/8 miles in 1:45.06) in her first attempt at the distance. The four-year-old looked a notch below the elite in her division when recording non-threatening placings in the Distaff Turf Mile (G2) and Just a Game (G1) in her two previous outings, and she’ll still need to back up Saturday’s impressive wire-to-wire performance, but In Italian appears to be on the upswing and her speed is dangerous.
Kellie Reilly: In Italian’s breakout performance stamped her as a Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (G1) threat. You could have made a case for all four Chad Brown runners in the Diana, and I thought In Italian’s best point was her upside trying 1 1/8 miles for the first time. But judging by her course-record wire job, maybe it wasn’t just the trip. Brown mentioned afterward that he expected In Italian would “run the race of her life,” based on how she was working in company with division leader Regal Glory, and did she ever. In Italian dismissed that ostensibly well-matched Diana field in the manner of a serious improver. Her blistering fractions appeared unsustainable, until you noticed that she was traveling well within herself. The Diana was only her seventh career start, so the royally-bred Dubawi filly has the scope to follow up.
Ashley Anderson: Chad Brown not only continues to excel on Saratoga’s turf, with the most victories over the last 10 years, but he’s solidified himself as the king of the Diana, achieving a record seventh win in the Grade 1 race and his sixth in the last seven years. This time around, Brown didn’t just saddle the winner. All four of his starters hit the board, with his longest shot, 8-1 In Italian, pulling off the upset in 1:45.06, a course record, to win gate to wire. Previously undefeated Bleecker Street went off as the 4-5 favorite and bumped a rival at the start, then was pinched back, before attempting to rally but ultimately finished three lengths behind the winner. In Italian had been training with arguably the best in the female turf division, Regal Glory, and proved herself just as dangerous as Brown’s other talented female turf runners.
Which juvenile has impressed you most at Saratoga so far?
JS: I liked Mo Strike’s win in the Sanford (G3). The Uncle Mo colt dueled early with sharp wire-to-wire scorer Curly Jack, turned back a serious challenge from rallying Andiamo a Firenze in midstretch, and won going away under the wire by a 3 1/2-length margin. Now 2-for-2 for Brad Cox, Mo Strike is bred to run longer and received a solid 95 Brisnet Speed rating. Early results are sometimes misleading — four of the last six Sanford winners failed to win another dirt stakes — but Mo Strike left a favorable impression.
KR: We’re still awaiting the first jaw-dropping juvenile of the meet, but Mo Strike looks like a good winner of the Sanford. Despite being part of the early dogfight, racing between Andiamo a Firenze and Curly Jack, Mo Strike had plenty left to pull clear in the final furlong. The Brad Cox pupil was building upon his promising debut at Churchill Downs, where he also responded to a challenge and kept finding to win well. His pedigree offers hope for the future too. The Uncle Mo colt is out of the Grade 1-placed Smart Strike mare Featherbed, making him a half-brother to 2014 Illinois Derby (G3) scorer Dynamic Impact.
AA: Brad Cox trainee Mo Strike, who won the six-furlong Sanford as the 8-1 choice in a field of 12. The Uncle Mo colt is now 2-for-2 after beating out nine rivals in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden special weight at Churchill Downs last month and will likely make his next start in the Hopeful S. (G1) on Sept. 5. Mo Strike won his most recent start by 3 1/2 lengths and flashed a 95 Brisnet Speed figure. His pedigree suggests he should perform well in the upcoming seven-furlong test.
Early thoughts on the Haskell?
JS: Taiba wire-to-wire. I’m concerned that Jack Christopher won’t be as short a price as expected — if you think the undefeated colt has any chance to be champion three-year-old male it’s now-or-never for Jack Christopher — but it’s easy to understand why Taiba would be fancied. The Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner appears to be training great, Bob Baffert has won a record nine Haskells, and Taiba will be the fastest horse in the field based on figures.
KR: As undefeated star Jack Christopher stretches out to two turns in the Haskell, his projected rivals should make it a truly-run race to test his stamina. Taiba has no shortage of speed, although he employed stalk-and-pounce tactics to take the Santa Anita Derby. Cyberknife and Howling Time turned the Matt Winn (G3) into a virtual match race, with the former just prevailing in a photo. The outsider among the Haskell probables, Benevengo, wired a recent Monmouth allowance. While Florida Derby (G1) hero White Abarrio won’t be on the lead, he’ll be in close striking range. Hence with this race shape, Jack Christopher will need to stay 1 1/8 miles effectively. His good tactical sense gives him every chance to work out a trip, and I think he’ll pass with flying colors.
AA: While Jack Christopher is undefeated in four career starts, we have yet to see the Chad Brown pupil race beyond a mile. Taiba, on the other hand, has won at 1 1/8 miles (the Santa Anita Derby), and will make his first start since a disappointing showing in the Kentucky Derby. The lightly raced three-year-old has a better shot at winning the nine-furlong race and has returned to Bob Baffert’s barn since being transferred to Tim Yakteen’s care during Baffert’s suspension. Baffert has won the Haskell a record nine times, most recently with Authentic in 2020. But I’m also intrigued by Howling Time, trained by Dale Romans. The Not This Time colt nearly wired the Matt Win at 1 1/16 miles but lost by a nose to Cyberknife. Howling Time’s recent career-best 97 BRIS figure and 97 Late Pace rating indicates the dark bay is on the improve and will likely be a factor in the pace setup of the Haskell.