Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series resumes with Haskell Stakes on NBC Sports

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After a two-week break, the Road to the Breeders’ Cup resumes on Saturday with a significant prep at the Jersey Shore anchoring the weekend’s stakes activity, which has been adjusted somewhat compared with previous years due to changing track schedules in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The $1 million, Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park is annually a key event in determining standings in the 3-year-old dirt male division, and that’s especially true this summer since for the first time in history it serves as a qualifying points prep for the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, which is rescheduled for Sept. 5 at Churchill Downs.

The 53rd Haskell Invitational also offers a fees-paid automatic berth to Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Nov. 7 at Keeneland as it’s part of the “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series Presented by America’s Best Racing. Watch the Haskell on Saturday, July 18 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

As a race restricted to 3-year-olds, the Haskell Invitational has not had a year-in, year-out impact on the Breeders’ Cup Classic since the World Championships began in 1984, but in certain years – especially when a strong crop of sophomores emerges – the Haskell has been a key prep race. In 1988, Haskell winner Forty Niner finished fourth in that fall’s Breeders’ Cup Classic, but runner-up Seeking the Gold made a bigger splash, fighting valiantly in deep stretch before yielding to eventual Horse of the Year Alysheba in the final strides to finish second. Serena’s Song became the first filly to win the Haskell in 1995; she competed in the ’95 and ’96 Breeders’ Cup Distaffs, finishing second in the latter year. Another eventual Hall of Famer, Skip Away, won the 1996 Haskell en route to champion 3-year-old male honors, and then romped in the 1997 Breeders’ Cup Classic to win another championship, this time as champion older male. He then went on to earn Horse of the Year and champion older male honors in 1998.

In 1999, Haskell runner-up Cat Thief posted a 19.60-1 upset in the Breeders’ Cup Classic under Pat Day, but after that, there was little crossover of note between the two races until 2007. That year was a banner one for 3-year-olds racing on dirt, and the top three finishers in the Haskell Invitational all started in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, which was held at the home of the Haskell, Monmouth Park. By that point, Curlin had emerged from his third-place effort in the Haskell to become the dominant racehorse in his class, and he validated that reputation with a 4 ½-length romp in the Classic. Haskell runner-up Hard Spun settled for second again in the Classic, while Haskell winner Any Given Saturday was sixth.

More recently, the Haskell’s profile has been elevated as a Breeders’ Cup Classic prep race (it became part of the Challenge Series in 2015). In 2014, Bayern, the seventh of Bob Baffert’s record eight Haskell winners, scored a front-running upset in the Classic at Santa Anita that survived a steward’s inquiry. And one year later, Baffert-trained Triple Crown winner American Pharoah easily won the Haskell, suffered a shocking upset in the Travers Stakes, and then returned to achieve Grand Slam glory by closing out his career with a blowout Breeders’ Cup Classic win at Keeneland.

The 2018 Haskell runner-up, Bravazo, did not compete in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs but did run a solid third in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. That year’s Haskell winner, Good Magic was the 2-year-old champion male of 2017 due to his win in the Sentient Jet Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, but he only raced once more as a 3-year-old after the Haskell before he was retired. Spun to Run, third to Maximum Security in the 2019 Haskell at 34.60-1 odds, trained on to win the Big Ass Fans Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita Park.

The United Nations Stakes, a prestigious Grade 1 race on turf at Monmouth Park usually held in late June/early July, is scheduled on the July 18 Haskell undercard this year. The 1 3/8-mile race has been won by some of the most accomplished grass horses in North America through the years, including Breeders’ Cup winners Manila (1986 and ’87 United Nations, 1986 Turf), Steinlen (1989 Mile, 1990 United Nations), Lure (1992 and ’93 Mile, 1994 United Nations), Better Talk Now (2004 Turf, 2005 United Nations), English Channel (2006 and ’07 United Nations, 2007 Turf), Main Sequence (2014 United Nations and 2014 Turf), and World Approval (2016 United Nations, 2017 Mile).

Watch the Haskell on Saturday, July 18 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.