Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: 2019 Haskell Invitational primer

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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.

Breeders’ Cup spots on the line this weekend, top trainers hold keys to 2-year-old tests

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Sometimes, in assessing stakes races, it is best to look at the history of the race and see if there is a dominant factor in that history. This weekend’s racing features both the Champagne Stakes and the Miss Grillo Stakes, two Win and You’re In races for the Breeders’ Cup (coverage begins Saturday at 4 pm ET on NBC). For both races, you need to look no further than the “winning trainer” column, which provides some unavoidable facts:

  1. Since 2004, Todd Pletcher has won the Champagne Stakes a record-setting six times.
  2. In recent times, Chad Brown has asserted himself in this race, winning 3 of the last 6 runnings.
  3. In the 14 runnings of the Miss Grillo since 2008, Chad Brown has been the winning trainer 8 times.

All observations and handicapping of these two races must begin with these facts. Is there something that makes horses from these barns better than others? Not necessarily. But history tells us that these two barns have high-quality and expensive horses and they tend to get them to peak at this time of year. You can try to beat them at the betting windows, but be aware of the history that you are running into.

Further research brought up some interesting notes about these two races and their Breeders’ Cup divisions.

First, a look at the 2-year-old colt division. Since 2004 (when Todd Pletcher won the first of his 6 Champagne Stakes), three 2-year-olds have won the Champagne, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and the 2-year-old Eclipse Award. They were War Pass (2007), Uncle Mo (2010) and Shanghai Bobby (2012).  Pletcher trained Uncle Mo and Shanghai Bobby, and Hall of Fame trainer Nick Zito handled War Pass.

RELATED: Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

Looking at the 2-year-old turf fillies, the dominance of Chad Brown is even more striking. Since 2008, when Chad Brown captured his first Miss Grillo and the first running of Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf, four 2-year-old fillies have captured the Miss Grillo and the Juvenile Fillies Turf. They were Maram (2008), Lady Eli (2014), New Money Honey (2016) and Newspaperofrecord (2018). All four fillies were trained by Chad Brown.

A review of charts from the Champagne back to 2004 (the year of Todd Pletcher’s first winner in the race) reveals that he had 20 starters, with 6 wins, 3 seconds and 1 third. That means he has won 30% of the time and been in the money 50%.

A review of the charts from the Miss Grillo dating back to 2008 (Chad Brown’s first winner in the race) shows that he has had 23 starters, with 8 wins, 1 second and 4 thirds. That means he has won approximately 35% of the time and been in the money 56%.

RELATED: Olympiad cruises to Jockey Club Gold Cup victory

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Champagne Stakes

So, what does this mean for this year’s editions of these two “Win and You’re In” races for the 2022 Breeders’ Cup?

In the Champagne, it seems that the dominant trainers in the sport are putting forth the major contenders.

  • 2021 Eclipse Award-winning trainer Brad Cox is likely to start Verifying, who was a solid winner at Saratoga as a big favorite in his only career start.
  • The sport’s all-time winningest North American trainer is Steve Asmussen, who is rapidly closing in on 10,000 career wins. Asmussen, who won this race in 2020 with Jackie’s Warrior, will send out Gulfport, a very impressive son of Uncle Mo. Gulfport won his first two races by an average winning margin of almost 10 lengths. Then, he had some real misfortune in his next two starts, finishing 2nd in both races at Saratoga. In the Saratoga Special, he had major traffic problems that led to losing several lengths at the top of the stretch. As the favorite in the Hopeful, he endured a wide trip on a sloppy surface to be 2nd best again. With a clean trip, he will be a major contender in the Champagne.
  • As previously stated, Chad Brown has won the Champagne in 3 of its last 6 runnings. He is likely to enter Blazing Sevens, who is a son of Good Magic, the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner. After a big win in the first race of his career at Saratoga, Blazing Sevens endured a wide trip on a sloppy track in the Hopeful Stakes, and he should improve here, especially on a fast track.
  • The horse who beat Gulfport in the Hopeful was Forte, trained by the 6-time winner of this race, Todd Pletcher. The stretchout to a one-turn mile in the Champagne would have seemed to be made to order for his closing kick. At entry time, Pletcher chose to not enter Forte in the Champagne Stakes, in all likelihood because he plans to enter the horse in the Breeders’ Futurity next Saturday at Keeneland. The Breeders’ Futurity is a Win and You’re In race for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, and can be seen on CNBC.

RELATED: Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

Storylines to Watch for 2022 Miss Grillo Stakes

Moving on to the Miss Grillo, Chad Brown is likely to enter Free Look, who was an impressive late-closing winner of a Maiden race in her second career start. In her first start, she was a victim of a slow pace, and the best she could do from the back of the pack was close to be 3rd. She seems to be a horse who is likely to improve with more racing. Free Look is a daughter of the leading sire Tapit.

Two others to watch in the Miss Grillo are Be Your Best and Pleasant Passage. Be Your Best is undefeated in two starts for trainer Horacio DePaz. Her last start was the P.G. Johnson Stakes, and she displayed the stalking style that has led to wins in both of her starts. Another with a license to improve is Pleasant Passage, from the barn of legendary trainer Shug McGaughey. In her only career start, she rallied up the rail and endured a stretch battle to get up for a narrow win. She has outstanding grass breeding, and the experience of that win should work in her favor in this race.

It is hard to predict outcomes with lightly-raced 2-year-olds. What we do know is that two horses will win their way into two Breeders’ Cup races on Saturday. That’s the great thing about these “Win and You’re In” races… they are running for something other than purse money, and it often produces some outstanding outcomes.

Lookahead to 2022 Breeders’ Cup

These races lead up to two of the 14 championship races on November 4th and 5th. For those who have never watched an entire Breeders’ Cup, get ready for the rush of witnessing a world championship event every 35 minutes or so. It’s like the Olympics of our sport. Be ready to watch and wager, and you’re sure to come away with some great memories. If you pick some winners, you might come away with a nice profit, as well. The Breeders’ Cup…there’s nothing like it!

Pegasus on Jan. 28, Florida Derby on April 1 at Gulfstream

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HALLANDALE BEACH, Fla. — Gulfstream Park announced the schedule for the 2022-23 Championship Meet, highlighted by the $3 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational on Jan. 28.

Also on Pegasus day: The $1 million Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, as well as the $500,000 Pegasus World Cup Filly & Mare Turf.

Gulfstream’s top Kentucky Derby prep race, the $1 million Florida Derby, will be run on April 1 as part of a card with 10 stakes races. Other top 3-year-old preps at Gulfstream in early 2023 include the $150,000 Mucho Macho Man on Jan. 1, the $250,000 Holy Bull on Feb. 4 and the $400,000 Fountain of Youth on March 4.

The Pegasus is returning for a seventh time. The format has changed several times in the race’s infancy; the purse structure for the Pegasus World Cup no longer requires owners to put up $1 million apiece for a spot in the starting gate for what was, at its inception, the world’s richest race with a purse that reached $16 million.

This much has remained constant: Winning the Pegasus changes a horse’s resume. No Pegasus winner has ever finished worse than sixth in the yearlong earnings among North American horses, and two past winners – Arrogate and Gun Runner – are two of the three highest-earning thoroughbreds in U.S. history.

Gulfstream’s Championship Meet runs from Dec. 26 through April 2, featuring 60 stakes races, 35 of them graded, and worth a combined $13.6 million.