Brad Grady's Girvin was nearly 13 lengths behind the leaders around the first turn in Sunday's Grade 1 betfair.com Haskell Invitational, but came flying down the center of the course under Robby Albarado to nip McCraken on the wire by a nose, taking his first top-level victory. The 3-year-old son of Tale of Ekati is also the first Grade 1 winner for young trainer Joe Sharp, and covered 1 1/8 miles over Monmouth Park's fast main track in 1:48.35. McCraken was just in front of Practical Joke in third, and it was several lengths back to Irish War Cry in fourth.
“I worked him last week up at the Spa and he was sharp,” Albarado said. “He showed that today. When he got in the clear in the stretch he just kept coming and coming. I was so impressed with what he did today and I think he's just going to get better and better.”
The Haskell victory earns Girvin an expenses-paid berth to the Breeders' Cup Classic this fall at Del Mar.
“Well I'll talk to Brad (Grady) and we'll see how Girvin comes out of it, but the timing for the Travers is good,” Sharp said when asked where Girvin would run next. At this point, he has done everything we have asked him to do. With the win and you're in to the Classic, the question with that is can he get the mile and a quarter. It would be most fitting based on his running style.
“They are all options and with our barn, we'll ship anywhere. There is no telling where he will end up.”
Practical Joke broke a bit inward at the start just as his stablemate Timeline was a half-step slow out of the gate, and Practical Joke angled in a bit to force Battle of Midway over to the inside rail as Irish War Cry set out for the lead. The bumping at the start allowed Battle of Midway to work his way inside Irish War Cry and take over the front position before the first turn, pushing out to a one-length advantage over Irish War Cry in second and marking the first quarter in :23.83.
Timeline, meanwhile, had rushed up between horses and was fighting jockey Javier Castellano behind Irish War Cry. Castellano had little choice but to angle him three-wide and allow him to challenge Battle of Midway for the lead.
“When he broke slow out of the gate I knew I had to change all my plans,” said Castellano. “He's never been in that position before, so I tried to cover up, tried to settle and put him behind horses but he pulled me so hard. At some point I had to let him go.”
Timeline and Battle of Midway battled through a half in :47.34, with a three-wide Irish War Cry tracking the pace from third. Practical Joke was tucked in at the rail in fourth, and Hence, McCraken, and Girvin made up the tail of the field.
Though those back three were several lengths behind Practical Joke, with Girvin nearly 13 lengths behind Battle of Midway early on, they began to close the gap on the frontrunners approaching the far turn. The field got crowded very quickly as Irish War Cry made it a three-wide battle for the lead with Timeline and Battle of Midway at the rail. McCraken was bold with a four-wide bid while Girvin and Albarado, as well as Practical Joke and Rosario, both waited until the straight, saving groud.
Timeline and Battle of Midway both gave way, and McCraken put away Irish War Cry to take the lead at the three-sixteenths pole. He had a two-length cushion, but Practical Joke and Girvin both hit their best stride in the middle of the track and were closing in on McCraken in the final eighth of a mile.
“Turning for home he put in a huge run and I thought we might have it but he just couldn't hold off that other horse,” said jockey Brian Hernandez of McCraken. “It just wasn't our day but we have to be so proud of our horse.”
It wasn't until the last jump before the wire that Girvin put his nose in front of McCraken, but Albarado had timed it perfectly to nail that rival on the wire.
“I've gotten beat in this race too many times, it's great to finally win it,” said a jubilant Albarado. “Point Given got me at the wire and then I had Curlin. This is wonderful… McCraken got the jump on me and kept me inside, but my horse never lost momentum, so I wasn't concerned. He's really coming into his own right now.”
Practical Joke, between Girvin and McCraken, was beaten no more than a neck in third, and it was several lengths back to Irish War Cry in fourth.
“Practical Joke ran very well,” said trainer Chad Brown. “He was right there at the wire in a three-way photo. He gave it his all. He had to pause a little turning for home, but other than that he had a good, ground-saving trip. He was right there with a good fighting chance to win and it was a great race. The two horses that finished just ahead of Practical Joke ran outstanding, its just unfortunate there had to be a loser between them. Hats off to the connections of Girvin. In an evenly matched race they came out on top.”
Bred in Kentucky by Bob Austin and John Witte, Girvin was originally purchased as a pinhook prospect for the relatively new owner Brad Grady. A $130,000 yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Sale, the colt had several minor issues which kept him from making it to any of the juvenile sales in 2016. Grady decided to keep the colt, naming him Girvin after his hometown in Texas, and sent him to trainer Joe Sharp.
Girvin did not debut until December of his 2-year-old season, but won at first asking at the Fair Grounds. Due to the EHV infection at the New Orleans oval, Girvin could not ship back in from the Evangeline training center to make his second start until early February; Sharp had to enter him in a two-turn turf stake in order to get the route experience he would need to contest the Derby trail. Girvin responded with a hard-found second in the Keith Gee Memorial on the grass, then at the end of February came home on top in the Risen Star by two lengths.
In the G2 Louisiana Derby, Girvin was again successful despite a wide trip, but problems with a quarter crack had the colt missing some training leading up to the Kentucky Derby. He finished 13th on the first Saturday in May, returning in the Ohio Derby with a rough trip to just miss behind Irap. Overall, Girvin had a record of four wins and two seconds from seven starts, and has earned over $1.5 million.
“We talked after the Derby and we thought it was right by Girvin to give him a freshening,” Sharp said. “We thought the Ohio Derby was a good spot for him and it was close to home. From his effort there, we thought he deserved a shot in the Haskell and a Grade 1. He was such a confident horse today.”
Watch the race replay here:
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