All eyes will shift to Monmouth Park on Sunday following today’s battle of the 3 year olds in the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. While today is the first installment of Triple Crown contenders returning to action for their summer debut, the GI $1 Million Haskell Invitational is more intriguing. The reason is because the race features not just Triple Crown contenders but winners. In what could be a showdown between Preakness winner Shackleford and Belmont winner Ruler on Ice, the element of surprise should still be considered. The 3 yr old division has shown plenty of obscurity in 2011 but after Sunday, a top contender for the title of 3 yr old champion (Male) may be a little bit clearer.
Summer racing is in full swing and the countdown to Breeders’ Cup weekend is on. With the introduction of the “Win & You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge, Sunday’s outcome is going to create a lot of buzz. The Haskell winner will earn themselves a spot in the starting gate at the Breeders’ Cup Classic on November 5th. 2 of last the last 10 Classic Champions took down the field at age 3 so if anyone in this class is capable of beating older horses, let the discussion begin.
Racing in all three legs of the Triple Crown, Shakleford is considered the only horse in the class that made it through all 3 races with a clean bill of health. Owned by Michael Lauffer – William Cubbedge and trained by Dale Romans, Shackleford won’t be shy of pressing the pace. In all three legs, he was either on the lead or just off heading into the far turn. In the Belmont Stakes and Kentucky Derby he had already claimed the lead at that point in the race but was unable to hold on in the stretch finishing 4th and 5th. It was in the Preakness Stakes that Flashpoint held that position, with Shackleford just behind in 2nd. He likes the action near the pace but it should play to his advantage for him to have a target going into the final turn. If so, the distance of 1 1/8 Mile could be huge. If he can grab the lead at the top of the lane, he may have the energy to hang on and fend off any deep closers.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Trainer Kelly Breen is where he prefers to be — Monmouth Park. Sending out Belmont Stakes winner Ruler on Ice and his stablemate, Pants on Fire, gives him home court advantage and then some. Following the Belmont, Ruler on Ice was sent back to Monmouth where he began training for the Haskell in late June. Not having won any other Stakes races, Ruler on Ice’s anticipated summer debut will be a chance for him to stamp himself as a true contender in the three-year-old division. At 4-1 on the morning line, you’ll have to bet him harder this time to equal the payout that lit up the tote board at Belmont Park. As the official lonshot in the Belmont Stakes (24-1) the payoff was $51.50. Will he be dubbed a one-hit-wonder or will Sunday be the beginning of a championship year?
This will be the second stakes race for Pants on Fire at Monmouth this summer. After finishing 9th in the Kentucky Derby, Breen elected to skip the other 2 legs. Instead, Pants on Fire returned on 6/18 for the G3 Pegasus Stakes (Replay). Ridden by Rosie Napravnik, Pants on Fire proved why he was the 3/5 favorite as he put away a field easily in the stretch. The field also included Concealed Identity who finished 2nd but was unable to catch Pants. Both horses are owned by George and Lori Hall so expect the jockey’s to wear matching silks.
Rounding out the field of 8 are few wild cards that could easily outperform the likely favorites. Most notably is Coil, trained by Bob Baffert. Owned by Mike Pegram and ridden by Martin Garcia, the trio will attempt to be repeating their prior success at Monmouth. All three had their spot in the 2010 Haskell winner’s circle with Lookin at Lucky. An advantage that I see for this horse is that he won his first graded stakes earlier this summer (G3 Affirmed Replay) from the same PP as he drew for the Haskell (PP 1). To me he is beginning to look like a serious late bloomer. One thing that will be interesting is to see how he takes to the surface at Monmouth. Having raced only at Hollywood Park, the move to dirt from synthetic should play into how his 3-1 odds adjust before the post.
Another trainer with previous Haskell success is Todd Pletcher. Winning his first in ’06 with Bluegrass Cat and again the following year with Any Given Saturday, he’ll be going for his 3rd with Joe Vann. I saw this horse win the Illinois Derby (Replay) in impressive fashion live at Hawthorne but the competition in that race doesn’t compare to the Haskell. In the 2 graded stakes races that followed he performed well, finishing 4th & 3rd, but I don’t see him making the jump to 1st against this group.
Astrology is still waiting to pop at age 3. Trained by Steve Asmussen, he came into this year as a Kentucky Derby contender. However, after getting sidetracked due to illness over the winter, his Triple Crown debut was delayed until the Preakness where he finished 3rd. More question marks came up last time out in the G3 Iowa Derby. As the post time favorite, he didn’t answer the odds and finished out of the money (6th). To me, his 3-yr-old campaign isn’t likely to come together with a win on Sunday.
Finally, two other stakes winners that will be looking to make a splash against GI competition are JJ’s Lucky Train and Concealed Identity. Both took home G3 stakes wins this spring but have yet to win since then. These two horses will be your sleepers in the field. JJ will likely be the official live longshot. At this distance I can see both of these horses making a bid mid-stretch but may only have enough left to finish 3rd at best.
Grade 1 $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational | 3 yr olds | 1 1/8 Mile | Dirt Post Position, Horse, Jockey, Trainer, ML Odds
- Coil M. Garcia B. Baffert 3-1
- Joe Vann J. Bravo T. Pletcher 15-1
- Pants On Fire E. Trujillo K. Breen 4-1
- Concealed Identity C. DeCarlo E. Gaudet 12-1
- Shackleford J. Castanon D. Romans 5-2
- Ruler On Ice J. Valdivia, Jr. K. Breen 4-1
- JJ’s Lucky Train P. Lopez W. Anderson 20-1
- Astrology J. Leparoux S. Asmussen 9-2
I expect all trainers to be sending out their respective horses with a solid chance at winning in mind. With the summer racing season just getting underway for most of the field I expect mixed results. I’m leaning towards a stretch duel between Shackleford and Pants on Fire. I expect Coil to be on top going into the final turn before being caught in the stretch and finishing 3rd. In the end I’m picking the 3-year-old champion contenders list to keep growing as Pants on Fire notches his 2nd win in as many starts at Monmouth Park this summer.
Sunday will be a great day of racing at Arlington Park but I will have to turn my attention away from live racing to check in on what’s happening at Monmouth Park. Race 12 on the 14 race card, the Haskell Invitational is scheduled for a 5:43 EST post. In more good news for horse racing, the race will be shown live on ABC during a one-hour spot that starts at 5. Good luck to all entries, their connections and racing fans. Sunday’s result: the first 3-year-old gets their spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic this fall……….it’s getting interesting.
Written by: Little Brink