Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: 2019 Haskell Invitational primer

Getty Images
0 Comments

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series heads to New Jersey for the 2019 Haskell Invitational. As the marquee event on Saturday’s card at Monmouth Park, the race’s winner gets an automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The action kicks off on NBC on Saturday, July 20 at 5 p.m. ET with a post time of approximately 5:45 p.m.

Most notably, Maximum Security, the first horse to cross the wire in the Kentucky Derby who was later disqualified for impeding the forward motion of several horses behind him, will seek redemption after a disappointing run back in June at Monmouth. He will face Triple Crown runners Joevia (Belmont) and Everfast (Preakness and Belmont) in the Haskell.


1. King for a Day (5-2)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Red Oak Stable

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $210,550

Earnings per start: $42,110

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This patiently-managed, well-bred colt is a leading win contender in the Haskell based on his perfect 2-for-2 record so far this year as a 3-year-old and, more importantly, his one-length win over Maximum Security in the June 16 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes. In that 1 1/16-mile race at Monmouth, King for a Day kept the pressure on Maximum Security throughout and outfinished his opponent in the final sixteenth of a mile. He’s lightly raced, winning one of three starts as a juvenile in 2018 and returning with an impressive 2 ½-length score in the May 18 Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico. And, he’s trained by multiple Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher, who has won the Haskell three previous times – with Bluegrass Cat in 2006, Any Given Saturday in 2007, and Verrazano in 2013. Look for Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to position King for a Day just off the early pacesetters and have him primed to strike at the top of the stretch. Velazquez’s two Haskell wins came aboard Bluegrass Cat and Verrazano for Pletcher. King for a Day is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to the dam of Mind Control, a Grade 1 winner as a juvenile and a leading 3-year-old sprinter this year.


2. Joevia (10-1)

Jockey: Jose Lezcano

Trainer: Gregory Sacco

Owners: Michael Fazio and Jeff Fazio

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $281,600

Earnings per start: $46,933

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This locally-based horse outran his 21.60-1 odds in the June 8 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, finishing third after setting a contested pace. He held on well until deep stretch at “Big Sandy” in his first race under jockey Jose Lezcano, who retains the mount in the Haskell. Prior to that, he scored by 2 ¾ lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park in May, defeating three horses on a sloppy track. He’s posted two consecutive triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures, has trained well at Monmouth since the Belmont Stakes, and could very well be a late-developing type with a legitimate upset chance in Saturday’s $1 million race. Lezcano will have to reserve some of Joevia’s early speed to capitalize on that chance, however, as the early pace figures to be heavily contested among Maximum Security, Mucho Gusto, Bethlehem Road, and possibly King for a Day.


3. Spun to Run (15-1)

Jockey: Paco Lopez

Trainer: Juan Guerrero

Owner: Robert Donaldson

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $82,620

Earnings per start: $13,770

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt has only finished out of the money once in six career starts – his debut last fall – but will be facing a major class hike in Saturday’s Haskell. Spun to Run enters off of his first two career wins, both coming at Parx Racing by a combined margin of 10 ½ lengths earlier this year. In those starts – both route races – he took over early and was never threatened as the odds-on favorite. He also raced competitively at Aqueduct last winter, nearly defeating subsequent Gotham Stakes winner Haikal in a six-furlong race. On the negative side, he’ll be racing Saturday after a nearly four-month break, and he will find it harder to stalk the pace of Maximum Security and Joevia with Mucho Gusto and King for a Day hovering nearby through the backstretch. He’ll be one of the longest shots in a compact Haskell field, if not the longest, and filling out the superfecta would appear to be his ceiling if he can hang on long enough. Picking up Monmouth-based jockey Paco Lopez is a plus, however. Lopez ranks second in earnings and third in wins during the current Monmouth meet through July 15 and was second in both categories in 2018.


4. Bethlehem Road (20-1)

Jockey: Luis Rodriguez Castro

Trainer: Dee Curry

Owners: Don Ameche III, Griffin Investments, and Randall Reed

Career record: 4 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $124,300

Earnings per start: $31,075

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After posting three consecutive front-running, open-length wins to begin his career at Parx Racing, including a stakes victory, Bethlehem Road moved up in class and shipped to Thistledown in Cleveland to start in the Ohio Derby on June 22. In that race, he was bumped twice, at the start and on the first turn, but recovered to stalk the pace before tiring badly in early stretch, finishing fourth of six behind OwendaleMath Wizard, and Long Range Toddy. This gelding should be part of the early pace in the Haskell, but he’s facing a tall task going up against Maximum Security, Mucho Gusto, King for a Day, and Joevia, as each of those horses also has speed plus a sizeable class advantage.


5. Mucho Gusto (2-1)

Jockey: Joe Talamo

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Michael Lund Petersen

Career record: 7 starts – 5 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $430,800

Earnings per start: $61,543

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: During the run-up to the Triple Crown races earlier this year, Mucho Gusto was a second-stringer in Bob Baffert’s loaded barn behind Game WinnerRoadster, and Improbable, despite winning a graded stakes as a juvenile and then another one in February. Now, he sits alongside the recently resurgent Game Winner in Baffert’s first string, and is a leading win candidate in Saturday’s Haskell based on his late spring-early summer form. He heads to the Jersey Shore on a two-race winning streak, taking the Lazaro Barrera Stakes at Santa Anita Park on May 18 and then defeating Roadster by 2 ¼ lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita on June 16. Although he did fade to third in his only prior start at 1 1/8 miles – the Sunland Derby back in March – this colt is bred to easily handle the Haskell’s distance and has a good pace-pressing running style that should set him up perfectly behind what figures to be some honest early fractions set by Maximum Security and company. And last but certainly not least, he’s trained by the all-time leading Haskell winner in Bob Baffert, who has eight career victories: Point Given (2001); War Emblem (2002); Roman Ruler (2005); Lookin At Lucky (2010); Coil (2011); Paynter (2012); Bayern (2014); and American Pharoah (2015). Baffert has also finished second in the Haskell four times and third once.


6. Everfast (10-1)

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Trainer: Dale Romans

Owner: Calumet Farm

Career record: 12 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $499,805

Earnings per start: $41,650

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Twice during the Triple Crown season, this deep closer has beefed up the exotic payouts in graded stakes by grinding on late in the stretch to finish second. He triggered a $1,101.70 exacta in Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull Stakes back in January by nabbing second behind fellow longshot Harvey Wallbanger, and surprised many public handicappers and bettors alike by edging Owendale for runner-up honors behind War of Will in the Preakness Stakes. In his four other graded stakes this year, Everfast has finished no better than fifth, and that includes a seventh-place effort in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, his most recent race. Supporters of this colt – who has not won a race since his career debut at Ellis Park last summer – will point out that he was only beaten by three lengths in the Belmont and he did earn a 100 Equibase Speed Figure in that 1 ½-mile classic. Furthermore, there should be a fast enough pace in Saturday’s Haskell to set up his late run as he’s really the only true closer in the field. He’s worthy of consideration in exactas and trifectas with the hopes of boosting those payouts, just as he’s done before, but his chances of reaching the Haskell winner’s circle are remote. Trainer Dale Romans finished second behind American Pharoah in the 2015 Haskell with Keen Ice, one race before that colt upset the Triple Crown winner and eventual Horse of the Year in the Travers Stakes, and he nearly won the Haskell in 2011 with Preakness winner Shackleford, who lost to Coil by a neck. Last year’s Haskell runner-up Bravazo was owned by Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm.


Jockey: Luis Saez

Trainer: Jason Servis

Owners: Gary and Mary West

Career record: 6 starts – 4 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $679,400

Earnings per start: $113,233

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: A second shot at redemption is on hand for this ultra-fast, talented colt who was at the center of a national controversy after he was disqualified from first and placed 17th in the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Maximum Security’s first chance to move past the Derby DQ hangover came in the June 16 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth, where he was sent off as the overwhelming 1-20 favorite against what looked like a mediocre field. But he stumbled out of the gate in that race and thereafter received constant pressure by an improving horse in King for a Day, who wore him down late in the stretch to win by a length. That was the first time in Maximum Security’s career in which he did not cross the finish line first, and just how well he’ll respond in the Haskell is easily the most anticipated question surrounding Saturday’s race. In the Derby and in his prior wins, Maximum Security showed that he does not necessarily need a clear early lead to win, but he certainly prefers to be forwardly placed. In addition to King for a Day, the Haskell field includes speed horses Joevia and Bethlehem Road as well as California invader Mucho Gusto, who also likes to set or press the pace. The expected company up front should make it tougher for Maximum Security to do what he does best, especially breaking from the outside post, but he’s still the fastest horse in the Haskell field and figures to stay in contention all the way to the finish line. Luis Saez finished second in last year’s Haskell aboard Bravazo. Gary and Mary West campaigned 2016 Haskell runner-up American Freedom and 2014 runner-up Power Broker, and Jason Servis trained third-place finisher Sunny Ridge in 2016.

 

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Haskell Invitational from Monmouth Park on Saturday, July 20. Coverage runs from 5-6 p.m. ET and post time is scheduled for 5:47 p.m.

Flightline, Pletcher, Godolphin lead way at Eclipse Awards

eclipse awards
Pat McDonogh/USA TODAY NETWORK
1 Comment

PALM BEACH, Fla. — Flightline ran away in all six of his races, and ran away with top honors at the Eclipse Awards on Thursday night.

And trainer Todd Pletcher, for the first time in nearly a decade, received the sport’s top prize as well.

Flightline – the now-retired winner of last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic to cap an unbeaten six-race career – won Horse of the Year as well as the Eclipse as top Older Dirt Male. It was no surprise that Flightline took home both awards, and he’s now standing stud.

“We’ll hope that his future is as bright as his past,” co-owner Kosta Hronis said.

Godolphin was also a double winner, sweeping the Eclipses as top owner and top breeder for the second consecutive year. It was also the third consecutive top-owner Eclipse for Godolphin.

“This is truly a golden era for Godolphin racing,” said Michael Banahan, the stable’s director of bloodstock. “And these awards and accolades recognize how special it is.”

It was Pletcher’s eighth Eclipse, extending his record for the most by any trainer, and his first since 2014. It was one of the few close races in the voting; Pletcher got 108 first-place votes, while four-time Eclipse winner Chad Brown got 95 and finished second.

“This really is not an individual award. This is a team award,” Pletcher said. “This is an award about the owners, and most importantly, the horses.”

Irad Ortiz Jr. won the Eclipse as top jockey for the fourth time in the last five years; he tied Pat Day and Javier Castellano for third-most in history, behind only seven-time winner Jerry Bailey and five-time winner Laffit Pincay Jr.

Ortiz led all jockeys with more than $37 million in purses in 2022.

“Wow,” Ortiz said. “It’s been an amazing year for me.”

Forte won the Eclipse as 2-year-old male, and will enter this year’s Triple Crown season as one of the early favorites.

“We’re all in this game for a horse like Forte,” said Mike Repole, the horse’s co-owner along with Florida Panthers owner Vincent Viola and Teresa Viola. “We’re all in this game to one day maybe own a 2-year-old that has a chance. It’s great to have the Kentucky Derby favorite. … Forte’s an incredible horse.”

Epicenter won the 3-year-old male Eclipse, after running second at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, then winning the Jim Dandy and Travers at Saratoga over the summer.

Wonder Wheel was the winner as 2-year-old filly, while Nest won the Eclipse in the 3-year-old filly division. Malathaat was the Eclipse winner for older dirt female, Goodnight Olive for female sprinter and Regal Glory for female turf horse.

Elite Power was picked as the top male sprinter, Modern Games won the Eclipse for male turf horse, and Hewick was the Eclipse winner in the steeplechase division.

Jose Antonio Gomez won as top apprentice jockey.

The Eclipse Awards are voted on by members of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, the Daily Racing Form and National Turf Writers And Broadcasters.

Trainer Bob Baffert’s ban from racing in New York is over

bob baffert
Courier Journal/USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Bob Baffert can once again enter horses at New York’s major tracks.

The Hall of Fame trainer’s one-year ban by the New York Racing Association ended Wednesday, allowing him to enter horses as soon as Thursday.

“I was disappointed they even did it, but it’s water under the bridge,” Baffert told The Associated Press by phone.

He was suspended last June for repeated medication violations, although none of them occurred in New York. He was barred from Aqueduct, Belmont and Saratoga. A panel credited Baffert for time served for an initial suspension, which allowed him to return this week.

Aqueduct is currently holding its 44-day winter meet that runs through March 26. Baffert doesn’t typically run horses this time of year in New York; he targets the biggest stakes races at Belmont in the spring and Saratoga in the summer.

Baffert remains under a two-year ban by Churchill Downs Inc., which sidelined him after Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit tested positive for a substance that is not allowed on race day. The penalty expires shortly after the Kentucky Derby in May. However, Baffert is fighting the suspension in federal court.

The Southern California-based trainer has a big weekend coming up around the country, although not in New York.

He has horses running at three tracks on Saturday.

Defunded is entered in the $3 million Pegasus World Cup at Gulfstream in Florida, where Baffert assistant Jimmy Barnes will be on hand.

Arabian Knight goes into the $750,000 Southwest Stakes as the early favorite at Oaklawn in Arkansas. Baffert has won the Kentucky Derby prep race a record-tying five times and will travel to Hot Springs to watch the 3-year-old colt.

“It’s going to be a good test for him. The only way to find out is to run him long,” he said. “It’s going to take a superior horse to do that and I’m hoping that he is.”

The Southwest offers Kentucky Derby qualifying points to the top five finishers. Arabian Knight won’t receive any points regardless of his placing because of Baffert’s Derby ban.

Hopper will run in the $200,000 San Pasqual Stakes on Saturday at Santa Anita.

On Sunday at the same track, Baffert has entered four of the five horses set to run in the $200,000 San Vicente Stakes for 3-year-olds.