This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Haskell Invitational (GI), an important summer stop for sophomores, many of which are exiting a grueling Triple Crown campaign. Once run as a handicap, the 1 1/8-mile Monmouth Park feature was switched to stakes conditions in 2006 and, in 2015, Triple Crown hero American Pharoah took home the trophy before going on to earn the Horse of the Year title. Other Horse of the Year honorees who have won the Haskell are Holy Bull (1994), Point Given (2001) and the filly Rachel Alexandra (2009).
This year, seven will line up for the $1 million event and, while none took home any of the three jewels of the Triple Crown, most have had top-notch careers so far and look to add to their resumes before likely moving on to the next big event for sophomores, the Aug. 26 Mid-Summer Derby known as the Travers Stakes (GI) at Saratoga.
The bad weather that’s been hanging around the Oceanport, New Jersey, area over the last few days is expected to clear out by Sunday’s race and the day’s highs are expected to reach into the upper 70s with humidity holding steady at about 50 percent all day. The track should be dry by post tome for this race, which has been set at 5:47 p.m. ET.
Isabelle de Tomaso, who is the daughter of Amory Haskell in whose name this special event was created, will be represented by her homebred — Wood Memorial Stakes (GI) winner Irish War Cry. The New Jersey-bred son of Curlin, who was last second to Tapwrit in the Belmont Stakes (GI), is the early favorite off of his overall record of four wins from 10 starts, including the Belmont, the Wood Memorial and the Holy Bull Stakes (GI) in early February.
He’s a frontrunner and will have to hustle to the lead from the inside, but if he runs as well as he’s been training at Graham Motion’s Fair Hill base and puts up speed and pace numbers anywhere near the triple digits he earned running his best races, he will be tough to run down.
Woodford Racing’s Timeline, undefeated in four career starts for trainer Chad Brown, takes a leap in class here, but he’s risen to every challenge so far, so it’s not hard to assume he’s capable of a mild upset here. The son of Hard Spun, who has won his races by a combined 20 ½ lengths, is coming off a pair of wins in Grade 3 company and while he hasn’t faced or defeated the likes of his top rivals here, he has improved with each start and has earned a series of three straight BRIS speed figures in the triple digits.
He’s also got some tactical speed, so he can show the way or sit off the frontrunners depending on how the early pace sets up, and he’s already won at the distance and this track. He’s been training expertly at Belmont Park, including a bullet half-mile in :48 last week, and he has a decent post with the three-hole. In any other race he’d be odds-on with all his upside potential; problem is this short field has drawn some monsters.
Practical Joke, who led his juvenile division with a pair of Grade 1 wins last year and a third in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (GI), fared well on the Triple Crown trail despite no wins. And after running much better than anticipated to finish fifth in the Kentucky Derby (GI), he got a bit of a breather before coming back to win the Dwyer Stakes (GIII) in fine fashion earlier this month. Chad Brown also trains this son of Into Mischief and the Klaravich Stable and William H. Lawrence color-bearer has been training exceptionally well at Belmont.
He should love the predicted quick early pace, as he’s a stalker/later runner and with a prep under his belt. All he may need is clear running room to the wire under jockey Joel Rosario. His figures overall show he’s capable of the win here, so this one may be best for a longer look in the paddock before making a final decision on where he belongs on your exotics ticket.
Battle of Midway, who was third in the Kentucky Derby after a second in the Santa Anita Derby (GI), sat the rest of the Triple Crown out and returned to win the Affirmed Stakes (GIII) at Santa Anita last month prepping for this race. The Don Alberto Stable and Winstar Farm-owned son of Smart Strike is loaded with potential and is in the right hands with Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, he’s just not busted out a “wow” performance yet.
He will be part of the early pace scenario, which doesn’t help him, but if he’s going to prove his mettle this will be the time to do it. Flavien Prat ships in with him from California and the pair will break from post position two.
McCraken started his career off right, winning four straight races and, at one time, he was considered the leader of his crop heading toward the first Saturday in May. But after winning the Kentucky Jockey Club (GII) and Sam F. Davis Stakes (GIII), the Ian Wilkes-trained son of Ghostzapper developed an ankle strain and missed some training and lost momentum down the Triple Crown trail. He made the Blue Grass Stakes (GII) and finished third, was eighth in the Derby and, then, followed that up with a very fit-looking, off-the-pace score in the Matt Winn Stakes (GIII) at Churchill Downs last month.
He’s a good horse and has earned some solid numbers; he just hasn’t earned any figures as high as the top choices here. Regular rider Brian Hernandez Jr. returns and the pair will break from post 5.
Girvin is another who had some foot trouble on the Triple Crown trail and despite reportedly training in special shoes for a quarter crack, made the Derby anyway and finished 13th. He returned after a brief break and some time for the hoof to heal to earn a second in the Ohio Derby last month by a nose, earning a huge 109 BRIS speed figure. The Joe Sharp-trained son of Tale of Ekati may have some distance limitations, which would be the only major knock for this mid-pack runner.
Calumet Farm’s Hence ran the race of his life to win the Sunland Park Derby (GIII) and qualify for the Kentucky Derby and though he didn’t fare well in Louisville (or in Maryland for the Preakness), he did come back to earn a nice win in the Iowa Derby (GIII) last time. The Steve Asmussen-trained son of Street Boss is a good horse with a lot of talent who just can’t seem to put it together when facing the better runners in his crop, so it’s hard to imagine a big turnaround in that department here.