The Grade 1, $1 million betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes may not feature Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming or Preakness Stakes winner Cloud Computing, who both opted for Saturday's Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga, but it is a marquee race to be sure. Even with a field of seven, there is not a single horse that can be discounted as a contender to win. All seven are graded stakes winners and all but one a multiple graded stakes winner, with no horse truly deserving of a “the field is led by” comment so I will just launch into breaking down the field in terms of my assessment of their probability to win.
Battle of Midway won the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes last month following a strong third of 20 finish in the Kentucky Derby. Earlier this year, the colt finished a game second in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby before the Kentucky Derby, at that time earning a career best 107 Equibase Speed Figure. As is the case with many three year olds during the summer, Battle of Midway took another step forward both physically and mentally in the Affirmed when ridden out to a four length victory with a new career-best 109 figure. Even in a field of four, that was an impressive effort. Battle of Midway has demonstrated the ability to win on the lead (as he did in the Affirmed) or when rallying from off the pace as he did when earning a win in March, which may be another advantage for the Haskell. Making his second start after a seven week layoff, Battle of Midway should run even better than he did in the Affirmed and that could make him the one to beat in the Haskell.
Timeline is undefeated in four races and in spite of the presence of horses with name recognition such as Irish War Cry, Girvin and McCraken may go off as the favorite off that record. Winner of the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes in May followed by the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes in June, Timeline has experience at Monmouth the other six horses in the Haskell lack and that could be significant. Like Battle of Midway, Timeline can win on the lead as he did in the Pegasus or he can stalk the pacesetter as he did in the Peter Pan, with both efforts yielding 111 figures that are the second highest (by one point) to what Practical Joke earned winning the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes earlier this month. That being said, horses that duplicate their figures in two straight races have about as much of a chance to regress as to improve. Given that Timeline may be bet heavily, although his is a strong win contender, perhaps we should be looking elsewhere for a good return for the risk on win bets.
Girvin is a contender even though he may not match up to the first two listed contenders in terms of his figures, with his best figures being 102 earned with back-to-back wins in the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes and Grade 2 Louisiana Derby earlier this year. Following his 13th place finish in the Kentucky Derby, Girvin took seven weeks off and ran strongly in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby last month when beaten a nose. Having stalked the pace in third in the early stages in the Ohio Derby, Girvin took over to draw off by a length and one-half before losing a head bob on the wire. The Ohio Derby has turned out to be a key race from which both winner (Irap) as well as fourth place finisher (Sorry Erik) have come back from to win. Both Irap and Sorry Erik improved their figures 11 points off the Ohio Derby, so using that same measure of improvement we might expect Girvin to earn a 111 figure in the Haskell, which would be good enough to win.
Irish War Cry, like Girvin, rebounded off a poor Derby effort (when 10th) to run a big race in the Belmont Stakes with a second place finish behind Tapwrit. After cutting out all the fractions on the lead from the start and for the first mile and three-eighths, Irish War Cry was just a bit vulnerable in the last eighth of a mile. The 102 figure earned in that effort can be improved upon on the cut back in distance and considering Irish War Cry earned 110 and 109 figures earlier this year winning the Grade 2 Holy Bull Stakes and Grade 2 Wood Memorial, respectively, we might see this son of Curlin take another step forward and run the best race of his career.
About the rest: Both Practical Joke and Hence ran the best races of their career recently, but both have potential to regress as those efforts were so much better than any of their previous races. Practical Joke won the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes with a career best 112 figure that certainly would be competitive if repeated. However, the Dwyer was a one-turn race and in his four previous two-turn races Practical Joke wasn't nearly as impressive. Hence earned a 106 figure winning the Grade 3 Iowa Derby in his most recent race but his previous best was 97 when victorious in the Grade 3 Sunland Derby in March and the horses he beat in the Iowa Derby were not near the quality of the horses most of the other runners in the Haskell field have faced. McCraken was very impressive winning the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes last month off a poor eighth place Kentucky Derby effort and the 103 figure earned in that race was close to his career best 104 figure earned winning the Grade 3 Sam F. Davis Stakes in February. Even though McCraken may run even better in the Haskell, I don't feel that effort would be good enough to beat this field as the horses he defeated in the Matt Winn are allowance quality at best, evidenced by the fact the third place finisher won a second level allowance race in his subsequent start.
Battle of Midway
Irish War Cry
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