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Despite the imposing presence of Maximum Security, who crossed the wire first in the Kentucky Derby before being disqualified for interference and also has a home-field advantage at Monmouth Park, a field of seven talented 3-year-olds was drawn Wednesday for the 52nd renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational on Saturday.
The 1 1/8- mile Haskell, where champions prove their greatness, also offers the opportunity to qualify for an all-expenses-paid spot in the starting gate for the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic as part of the "Win and You're In" Breeders' Cup Challenge series.
The Haskell is the highlight of Monmouth Park's 64-stakes race schedule and it marks the beginning of the all-important second half of the racing season to determine the divisional champion and potentially the eventual Horse of the Year.
Race 12 at Monmouth Park on Saturday, July 20 - Post 5:47 PM
|1||King for a Day||5-2||John Velazquez
|3||Spun to Run||15-1||Paco Lopez
|4||Bethlehem Road||20-1||Luis Rodriguez Castro
|5||Mucho Gusto||2-1||Joseph Talamo
|7||Maximum Security||8-5||Luis Saez
"This race is really important in the campaign for the 3-year-old champion. The Haskell could be critical," said trainer Jason Servis, who stables Maximum Security for Gary and Mary West in his Monmouth Park division.
Maximum Security, who won the Grade 1 Florida Derby earlier in the season, will break from post 7 and was installed as the 8-5 morning-line favorite by oddsmaker Brad Thomas despite losing by a length here to King for A Day while prepping for the Haskell last out in the Pegasus Stakes June 16. Red Oak Stable's homebred King for a Day has been training for this race at Todd Pletcher's Saratoga Race Course headquarters and he returns to the Jersey Shore in an attempt to win his second consecutive stakes race, his first graded stakes and his first Grade 1 event.
"This is a big step up from the Pegasus but he's an enthusiastically training colt, he's had three solid works and I couldn't be more delighted with the way he's coming into the race," said Pletcher, who will give a leg up to Hall of Fame rider John Velazquez before they depart from the rail as the 5-2 third choice.
Bob Baffert holds the Haskell training record with eight wins and has sent three-time Grade 3 winner Mucho Gusto from his formidable Southern California-based operation. The highly-regarded 2-1 second betting choice will break from post 5 under Joe Talamo, who has been aboard for all of the colt's seven career outings. Talamo, perennially a top 10 rider on the Southern California circuit, has only ridden at Monmouth Park four times in the past, with all four mounts coming when the 2007 Breeders' Cup was held here and is looking for his first trip to the winner's circle.
"It's a great draw for Mucho Gusto," said the Hall of Fame trainer, who saddled Triple Crown winner American Pharoah when he won the 2015 Haskell. "Maximum Security is definitely the best horse in the race but I like where we drew. From there Joe can play the break and keep him in the clear. My horse has speed."
Michael Lund Petersen's Mucho Gusto comes in boasting consecutive Grade 3 scores in the Laz Barrera Stakes and the Affirmed Stakes, which were both run at Santa Anita. He arrived on the grounds here Tuesday evening after jetting cross country and went out to get a feel for the Monmouth racing strip for an easy 6 a.m. gallop once around the oval Wednesday.
"He shipped really well and he couldn't be doing any better. After he won last out (in the Affirmed) I thought he was ready for this. He deserves his chance to take on Grade 1 company," said Baffert.
Michael and Jeff Fazio's Joevia, third last time out in the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes at 1½ miles under Jose Lezcano, is the other locally-based colt in the field. Joevia won the Long Branch Stakes here May 12 and trainer Gregg Sacco has engaged Lezcano for another try at winning a Grade 1 race. They depart from post 2 as one of the longshots at 10-1.
"My horse will run all day," said Sacco, who grew up in his the shedrow of his father and former Monmouth Park leading trainer William Sacco, took over the barn in 1988 and is saddling his first Haskell starter. "We're really excited to be in the Haskell. With Maximum Security, King for a Day, Mucho Gusto, Everfast, and the horses from Parx who are improving, this should be a great race."
Everfast and Parx invaders Bethlehem Road and Spun to Run round out the field. Dee Curry, who will become just the fourth woman to train a Haskell starter, has Parx Spring Derby winner Bethlehem Road departing from Post 4 and the Carlos Guerrero-trained Spun to Run is just to his inside in post 3.
Calumet Farm's Everfast, the Grade 1 Preakness runner-up trained by Dale Roman and 10-1 in the line, will be partnered with Julien Leparoux and drew post 6.
"We have nothing to lose and everything to gain. We feel no pressure," said Curry.
"Paco Lopez came in to work my horse and said he can really run," said Guerrero, who partners Lopez with Spun to Run for the first time.
The Haskell field from the rail out with riders and odds is: King for a Day, John Velazquez, 5-2; Joevia, Jose Lezcano, 10-1; Spun to Run, Paco Lopez, 15-1; Bethlehem Road, Luis A. Rodriguez Castro, 20-1; Mucho Gusto, Joe Talamo, 2-1; Everfast, Julien Leparoux, 10-1; Maximum Security, Luis Saez, 8-5.
Post time for the Haskell, which will be televised by NBC Sports from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., is 5:47 p.m. and will go as the 12th of 14 races on the card.
When Bob Baffert looks to extend his record for victories in the Haskell Invitational to nine on July 20, the Hall of Fame trainer will likely do so in an unfamiliar position.
Six of his previous eight Haskell winners have gone off as the favorite in Monmouth Park's signature race (Bayern in 2014 and Coil in 2011 won for Baffert as the second choice).
That probably won't be the case when Mucho Gusto goes postward in the $1 million, Grade 1 race despite the colt's nearly-flawless record of five wins, a second and a third in seven career starts.
But would it be a surprise if the son of Mucho Macho Man-Itsagiantscauseway by Giant's Causeway pulled off a minor upset?
Yes and no, said Baffert.
"It would probably be a lot of fun to win it with this one. When you don't expect to win those are the ones that are a lot of fun," he said. "But honestly, we're surprised when we lose. We're not surprised when we win.
"If I didn't think we had a chance to win I wouldn't send him. I think he's got a chance. If everybody shows up and runs the way they're capable of it should be a heck of a race."
For now, Maximum Security and the Todd Pletcher-trained King for a Day are the headliners in the 52nd running of the Haskell Invitational. Joevia and Mucho Gusto, despite back-to-back Grade 3 wins at Santa Anita, would be nipping at the heels of the top two. Chilly in Charge, Everfast and Spun to Run are the other probable starters at this point.
"If Maximum Security runs his race I think he will be tough," Baffert said. "I thought he just got tired last time (a one-length loss to King for a Day in the TVG.com Pegasus Stakes on June 16)."
Starting with his first Haskell victory with Point Given in 2001, Baffert has won the race eight times and has been second on two other occasions. Point Given's victory was followed by wins by War Emblem (2002), Roman Ruler (2005), Lookin at Lucky (2010), Coil (2011), Paynter (2012), Bayern (2014) and American Pharoah (2015).
He was second with American Freedom in 2016 and in 2013 with Power Broker.
"Mucho Gusto is a little like Power Broker. He's that kind of horse," Baffert said.
A $625,000 yearling purchase, Mucho Gusto has competed in six straight graded stakes races since breaking his maiden at 2 on Sept. 18 and has yet to miss the board. This will be his second try in Grade 1 company.
"He's a horse who I think is getting better. He's very consistent," Baffert said. "But he's going to have to step up in order to compete with these horses.
"I like to take a swing at the fences. Sometimes you have to do that. If he wins it's great. Even second would be fine. I'm not going in with the favorite like I usually do but I think he deserves a chance so we'll take a shot at it."
Baffert said Mucho Gusto, owned by Michael L. Petersen, will breeze on Friday, shipping in next Wednesday. Joe Talamo, the colt's regular rider, will make the trip East to ride in the Haskell.
"This is a horse that is slowly getting there," Baffert said. "He's been pretty solid to this point but I think he is still getting better. This would be a big accomplishment for him if he were to win."
Among other Haskell Invitational contenders, Maximum Security galloped on Thursday and will have his final work before the race either Monday or Tuesday, trainer Jason Servis said. Joevia, third in the Belmont Stakes, will work five-eighths on Sunday in his final prep, according to trainer Gregg Sacco.
Trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero said he has enlisted Paco Lopez to ride Spun to Run in the Haskell.
The Haskell Invitational has generally been a favorite bettor's haven through the years. Of the 51 runnings of Monmouth Park's signature race, 25 have been won by favorites - a 49 percent clip.
But there have been exceptions to that, and trainers Juan Carlos Guerrero and Miguel Vera are counting on the Saturday, July 20, edition of the $1 million Haskell Invitational being one of those.
Both conditioners head into the Grade 1 Haskell knowing exactly what they're up against: A horse (Maximum Security) that crossed the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby; the Preakness Stakes runnerup (Everfast); the third-place finisher in the Belmont Stakes (Joevia); a Bob Baffert-trained horse (Mucho Gusto) that has won five of seven career starts, and a horse that defeated Maximum Security (King for a Day) on June 16.
Vera, who has a string at Monmouth Park, will send out Chilly in Charge in the Haskell, trying his colt in graded stakes company for the first time.
Guerrero will saddle Spun to Run, an improving colt who has yet to try stakes company.
And both are surprisingly optimistic about their horses.
"This is a horse that deserves a chance to try something bigger," said Vera. "He didn't show us much early in his career but his last two races he has shown us he is a horse that can compete in a graded stakes.
"These are the best 3-year-olds in the country right now. We know that. But my horse is doing well and deserves a chance."
Chilly in Charge, a son of Take Charge Indy-Holiday Chills by Harlan's Holiday, broke his maiden on May 5 at Woodbine in his fourth career start. He followed that with a 12-length romp in the Crowd Pleaser Stakes at Parx on June 22.
Owned by Newtown Anner Stud, Chilly in Charge was a $170,000 yearling purchase.
"He has to improve a lot in the Haskell," said Vera. "But he did that in his last race and I think he can do it again because he hasn't raced that much and he is still developing. So we're going to take a shot."
Spun to Run, a Kentucky-bred son of Hard Spun-Yawkey Way by Grand Slam, has only missed the board once in six career starts and is coming off two straight victories. One was a Maiden Special Weight score, the other a 7¼-length romp in a $50,000 optional claimer. Both races were at Parx.
Guerrero thinks his colt will improve dramatically, too, because of two reasons: Successful surgery for a trapped epiglottis and the addition of blinkers for the Haskell. He has enlisted Paco Lopez to ride.
"He came back perfect (from the surgery)," said Guerrero. "I started looking at the races available and this made sense to me. It's an easy ship from Parx. I know Maximum Security is a good horse but I'm not sure he is the same horse he was. He just got beat, so we know he can lose.
"I look at this as a wide-open race. There are two really nice horses in it but I think my horse is sitting on a very good race."
Spun to Run, owned by Robert P. Donaldson, will have to shake off some rust since has not raced since March 23. But Guerrero has been pleased with the way his horse has been training.
"I think he is right there with these horses," he said. "He was good without blinkers. To me, blinkers move him up five lengths - which puts him right there with these horses. And it's a $1 million race. So why not try?"
This will be Guerrero's second career attempt to win a Grade 1 stakes. Golden Mystery finished seventh for him in the 2011 Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Sprint.
For both trainers, the most recent Haskell history they will be looking to duplicate is Girvin's win at 9-1 in 2017 and Restless Con's victory in 1990 at 10-1. The biggest winning longshot in the race's history is Skip Trial, who pulled off a 35-1 stunner in 1985, returning $73.00 to win.
Trainer Dale Romans knows the Haskell Invitational represents a significant challenge for Everfast. But it's not as if he hasn't been in this position before for Monmouth Park's signature race.
In the 2015 Haskell, Romans sent out Keen Ice against Triple Crown winner American Pharoah - and saw his horse run a solid second, beaten just 2¼ lengths.
So even though Everfast has struggled to find the winner's circle since breaking his maiden 11 starts ago, Romans is sending the Preakness runner-up into the Saturday, July 20, Haskell feeling he has a late runner with a chance in a race that appears to be brimming with speed.
Maximum Security, King for a Day, Joevia, Mucho Gusto, Chilly in Charge, Spun to Run and Everfast are the probable starters for the $1 million, Grade 1 Haskell. The list of possible starters includes Harvey Wallbanger, Laughing Fox, Math Wizard, Tax and Lexitonian.
"I'm not frustrated by what he has done," Romans said of Everfast, who was also second in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and was beaten just 3¼ lengths in the Belmont Stakes. "To me he's the little engine that could. He tries hard. It took him a while to get going and to show his talent but that's starting to happen.
"Finishing second in the Preakness was big and it was also big to only get beat 3¼ lengths in the Belmont Stakes. That was a good race he ran."
Everfast, a son of Take Charge Indy-Awesome Surprise by Awesome Again, has posted his two best Beyer Speed Figures (92 and 96, respectively) in the Belmont and Preakness, his last two starts. He staged a rousing late run to close from 11th in his second-place Preakness finish, beaten 1¼ lengths by War of Will.
"You can tell he's improving," said Romans. "The Preakness was by far his best race. His coming out party was the Holy Bull and then he let people know he was still around in the Preakness. His Belmont wasn't a bad race, either."
Owned by Calumet Farm, Everfast has banked $499,805 despite being just 1-for-12 lifetime.
The Haskell was a chance Romans did not want to pass up with his colt.
"The Haskell is one of my favorite races of the year," he said. "Any time I have a chance to compete there we're going to take it. (Calumet Farm owner) Mr. (Brad) Kelley loves the Haskell as well, so he said `let's take a chance.' "
Romans also finished second in the 2011 Haskell Invitational with 3-2 favorite Shackleford, who was beaten a neck when Coil closed from eighth and last to get up at the wire. He is hoping for a similar scenario where a late runner - his horse - is the one flying at the end.
"We'll try to do what Coil did - sit back and then come running late. Nail the leader at the wire. That would be great," said Romans. "I like the way the race shapes up for us. It looks like it's a nice fit for a closer."
Haskell Invitational contenders Maximum Security and Joevia remain on schedule for Monmouth Park's signature race on Saturday, July 20, with the trainers of both locally-stabled 3-year-olds saying they're pleased with the status of their respective horses as the field continues to take shape two weeks prior to the Grade 1 race.
Maximum Security, the first horse to be disqualified after winning the Kentucky Derby, worked a mile on Saturday, with trainer Jason Servis satisfied with what he saw.
"He's doing okay," said Servis. "It was all good. He went a mile in 1:54 - one minute the first half, 54 seconds the second half. I was happy with that."
Joevia, coming off a third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes, will work on Monday "weather permitting," said trainer Gregg Sacco.
"It's going to be a maintenance work with a good gallop out. Then we'll have one more (work) after that next Sunday (July 14) if the weather cooperates," said Sacco. "He's doing super. We're on schedule for the Haskell."
Sacco, whose family roots are tied to the opening of Monmouth Park in 1946 when his father William trained, said that having a Haskell Invitational contender "is a dream come true."
"It's incredible, really," said Sacco, who began training on his own in 1989 at Monmouth Park. "Growing up the way I did at Monmouth, with my dad training here since the track opened, watching as many Haskell races as I did as a kid ... it's an incredible feeling to be this close to being in my first Haskell."
Maximum Security, beaten in his most recent start by a length in the Pegasus Stakes on June 22 by Haskell contender King for a Day, looks to be closer to his pre-Kentucky Derby form, according to Servis. The Gary and Mary West-owned colt won the Kentucky Derby by 1¾ lengths before being disqualified to 17th for interference.
"I would say he is starting to point that way," Servis said of the Florida Derby winner. "Right now he's doing good."
The $1 million Haskell Invitational headlines a July 20 card that includes the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup, the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher Stakes, the Grade 3 WinStar Matchmaker Stakes, the Grade 3 Oceanport Stakes and the Wolf Hill Stakes.
Plain and simple, the Grade 1, $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational is Summer's Biggest Race and Summer's Biggest Party! The country's top 3-year-olds converge on Monmouth Park for the 1 1/8-mile Haskell - the race "Where Champions Prove Their Greatness."
The second half of a wide-open 3-year-old season will begin in earnest with the 52nd edition of the Haskell Invitational on Saturday, July 20, with 52 horses receiving invitations to Monmouth Park's showcase race, it was announced today by director of racing and racing secretary John F. Heims and stakes coordinator Lynn T. Ott.
The winners of all three Triple Crown races were formally invited, as was Maximum Security, the first horse to be disqualified from first place in the Kentucky Derby.
Maximum Security, trained by Jason Servis and stabled at Monmouth Park, will be looking to re-assert his dominance in a muddled 3-year-old season.
Recent Grade 3 Affirmed winner Mucho Gusto and 2018 Juvenile champion Game Winner are among the four horses from trainer Bob Baffert's barn that were invited. Baffert has won the Haskell Invitational a record eight times, doing so in 2015 (American Pharoah), 2014 (Bayern), 2012 (Paynter), 2011 (Coil), 2010 (Lookin at Lucky), 2005 (Roman Ruler), 2002 (War Emblem) and 2001 (Point Given).
The Haskell Invitational has been designated a "Win and You're In" race for the Breeders' Cup Classic.
Maximum Security is one of four horses from Servis' barn to receive an invitation to the Haskell. Stablemates Direct Order, Final Jeopardy and Grumps Little Tots were invited as well.
The winners of the two local Haskell prep races were also extended invitations: Long Branch Stakes winner Joevia, trained by Monmouth Park-based Gregg Sacco and coming off a solid third-place finish in the Belmont Stakes, and the Todd Pletcher-trained King for a Day, who defeated Maximum Security by a length in the Pegasus Stakes on June 16.
The complete list of horses invited to the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational:
Code of Honor
Grumps Little Tots
Hog Creek Hustle
King for a Day
Long Range Toddy
Plus Que Parfait
War of Will
Win Win Win
Third-place Belmont Stakes finisher Joevia returned to his base at Monmouth Park on Sunday morning with trainer Gregg Sacco targeting the July 20 Haskell Invitational for the colt's next start.
Joevia, who won the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park on May 12, was a game third in the Belmont Stakes after setting all of the early fractions in the final leg of the Triple Crown on Saturday. The Kentucky-bred son of Shanghai Bobby-Peace Process by War Front was beaten just 1¾ lengths by Belmont Stakes winner Sir Winston.
"He came back great," said Sacco. "It was a dynamite race for him. He's an improving colt. This time of year that's what you want.
"We knew he would have to improve to be competitive and he improved off the Long Branch Stakes the way we hoped he would."
Though invitations for the $1 million Haskell have yet to be issued, Sacco said "it would be a dream come true to participate" in the showcase race at his home track.
"We'll see how he trains, but the Belmont Stakes certainly lines us up for the Haskell if we're invited," Sacco said. "We couldn't be any happier with where he is and you have to feel good having an improving 3-year-old right now, which he is."
Joevia has two wins, two seconds and a third from six career starts, with his only off-the-board finish in the Wood Memorial following a trouble-filled trip.
"We knew he was better than that Wood performance. That was just a debacle for him," said Sacco. "He broke bad, rushed up and got hooked by a speed horse. That was a nightmare. But he has come back with two really strong races since then and we're over the moon with where he is now."
Owned by Michael and Jeff Fazio, Joevia broke his maiden at Monmouth Park in his first career start last July 15.
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