Our man Geo Sette is ready for his big day at Monmouth Park on the Jersey shore. As usual Geo does his deep dive dissection of the marquee race at Monmouth Park, The TVG Haskell.
Racing at beautiful Monmouth Park has changed over the years, these days running only over the weekend with a Friday evening reduced twilight card of 6 races, followed by big lengthy cards on Saturday and Sunday. The one thing that hasn’t changed is the centerpiece of the Jersey Shore, the biggest and most anticipated day of the year on the New Jersey racing circuit, the Haskell Stakes. This is the mid-summer classic for three-year-olds, many of whom were battle tested earlier in the year in the Triple Crown races.
The history of this race is storied for sure, running for 53 years since it inaugurated back in 1968. I have personally been in attendance for this event numerous times, including watching Triple Crown winner American Pharoah coast home to victory back in 2015 and Verrazano winning by 9 and ¾ lengths in 2013 (which stands as the largest winning margin in Haskell Stakes history).
As a result of the pandemic and continued concerns, Monmouth Park is not allowing food and drink to be brought into the racetrack premises, so leave your coolers at home. They are providing various dining packages in the Picnic area, Grandstand and Club House.
The weather will be summer balmy. Many of the ladies in attendance will be wearing their best summer dresses and trendiest sandals or wedges. It’s not like Kentucky Derby day but on Haskell Day, folks at Monmouth dress to impress.
There’s a field of 7 three-year-old colts going. Even with the limited field, I still found it compelling with 4 realistic contenders and 3 pretty defined outsiders.
As in recent years, the winner will again gain an automatic entry to the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Classic, so along with the robust million-dollar purse, there’s history to be made.
Absent is Essential Quality who won the Belmont Stakes and whom I believe is the best three-year-old colt in training. His connections have targeted the Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga for his next race.
I have completed my typical path of film study, detailed past performance reconciliation and pedigree acknowledgements to provide for you the most likely precise order of finish.
You can use my analysis as a stringent guide so you can make an informed decision for yourself at the windows and with some racing luck, perhaps there’s a score waiting for you.
Here’s my precise order of finish for all 7 horses entered in the field.
# 6 Midnight Bourbon:
As I have shared in previous columns earlier in the year during the Triple Crown, this guy is an imposing physical specimen. Purchased for $525,000.00, this son of Tiznow has hit the board in several graded stakes races, while earning over $661,000.00 since he began racing as a juvenile. Saddled by Hall of Fame trainer Steve Asmussen (who won this race back in 2009 with his fabulous filly Rachel Alexander) with rider change to Paco Lopez. Paco is very familiar with the Monmouth oval, and is able to handle horses well who have solid tactical speed. This colt has raced over 6 different surfaces over his 9 lifetime starts, and now is making his debut, as are two of his opponents, on the Monmouth soil. Turning back a bit to 9 furlongs may very well be to his liking as I expect him to break alertly and likely sit 2nd or at worst a close third to the speed ball #1 horse Following Sea, and perhaps Hot Rod Charlie. His morning drills have been consistent and fast while training at Saratoga and Churchill Downs. He’s only 2 for 9 but has shown to be a hard hitter in fighting during various stretch duels. He’ll need to run his career best race, but he just may be sitting on it now. He’s my top choice and I’m expecting to gather a price around 4-1 or 5-1, so there’s value with him to boot.
# 4 Hot Rod Charlie:
Speaking of seasoned hard hitters, this guy has been as tough as nails and he’s likely to be the betting favorite, deservingly so. In his last, the Grade one Test of Champions Belmont Stakes, he set a sizzling pace for the marathon 12 furlong distance, and was dead game under immense pressure until finally giving way to Essential Quality, who as I mentioned is arguably the best three-year-old in training. Flavian Prat is back up for Doug O’Neill and like my top choice, this guy has proven to adapt to any surface he is running on, now making his 10th lifetime start and his 7th different surface. Trainer O’Neill has decided on taking his blinkers off, something he has worn over his last 6 starts. He’s been barned over the West Coast at Santa Anita where he compiled 4 steady works for this race, all solid which is an indication of fitness. His Beyer speed rating is the field’s best, so this son of Oxbow will take some beating. He is likely to sit a nice trip, racing 2nd or 3rd and saving his best turn of foot as they turn for home. He will be the betting favorite, and it’s hard to remove him from your exacta finish, and all other exotics available, a must in your triples and deeper gimmicks too. If he runs back to his last few, especially now cutting back to 9 furlongs, he will likely be your winner. I have him placed 2nd because I’m feeling Midnight Bourbon hasn’t shown us his very best yet. This guy must be respected as a serious contender to take it all.
# 3 Mandaloun:
This guy sprinted in his two races as a juvenile and has filled out nicely running in routes ever since. We all know he ran 2nd in the Kentucky Derby and as the Medina Spirit drugging investigation continues, he’s likely to become the newly listed winner. On Kentucky Derby Day he ran by far his career best race, which oddly followed his career worse race in the Louisiana Derby, where he was the odds on favorite, broke well, showed tactical speed, but later folded like a tent and was completely empty for the stretch run, perplexing for sure. He later came back to be the odds on favorite in the lower key stakes Pegasus over this same Monmouth soil. He emerged victorious but he had to work very hard for it. He worked very fast at Churchill Downs breezing in .59 +1, but then ran a rather ordinary 1:02 breeze working at Monmouth for this race. Florent Geroux his career regular rider is back up for Brad Cox. This colt really has a world of talent, and for that he’s a win contender, but to me clearly my top two choices are more appealing. If the pace of front is a sizzle, it will improve his chances for a stronger finish. He’s hit the board in 6 of his 7 lifetime starts, so he’s a must use in your triples and deeper gimmicks or boxed waging opportunities. Lastly of note, both Midnight Bourbon and Hot Rod Charlie have already defeated him.
# 1 Following Sea:
This guy is no doubt the ‘new shooter’ wise guy horse, a lightly raced horse with only 3 career starts, and he never raced as a juvenile. This colt draws the rail and possesses high quality speed, but he’s only been sprinting and is now stretching out to his 9-furlong test, something he’s never been exposed to. Additionally, he’s stepping way up in class into a Grade 1 stakes race from Non-winners of 1 allowance test. That’s apples and oranges in the racing world. He was formally based on the West coast in the Bob Baffert barn, then later taken over by the fabulous Todd Pletcher stable. He’s got one of the best riders in the business in Joel Rosario which is making this guy and his stretching out speed more compelling. His morning drills over at Big Sandy at Belmont Park were solid but not overly impressive, but clearly, he does seem very fit. This son of Run Happy will be asked to flash his speed early, so it’s very likely he’ll be your front runner, and then it’s all about the pace and how good this colt really is. He’ll be backed at the windows due to his connections and swift ways out of the gate. His ownership has ambitiously placed him into this race so with that and the fact he’ll be on the lead, he’s one of the 4 contenders, but clearly not as classy as my top 3 listed above. As we all know sometimes a horse gets very brave on the lead, it builds confidence, and he does have a triple digit Beyer to his credit, but as a seasoned handicapper, logically I simply cannot endorse him to win, especially at a shorter price ( he will get action at the windows). My feeling is that he’ll be passed in the stretch by the classier colts who have greatly demonstrated the ability to make this distance. So, he’s my 4th choice. On his best day could he win? Sure, but it’s not likely. Look for him to hang on for 4th, or perhaps 3rd if one of my top 3 fails to fire their best.
# 5 Pickin’ Time:
This colt is intriguing as he’s making only his 3rd start in his three-year-old campaign after racing mostly of his career as a Juvenile. He’s a horse for the course as 4 of his 8 career starts have been over this same Monmouth soil. He’s been working bullets in his morning drills at Monmouth, but in his last on May 28th, he hung like a chandelier and gave way badly in the stretch. Popular local rider Nic Juarez is the new rider saddled by Kelly Breen, and this New Jersey bred does have a Grade 3 win to his credit (The Nashua at Aqueduct) but overall his race times and speed figures are simply inferior to this group. He’s got some closing punch, which gives him the possibility to fill up a bottom gimmick like a side superfecta, but he’s a throw out on the win end, I would toss him entirely from your exacta wagers as well. I feel I have him placed properly here running 5th. He does have 2 wins at Monmouth, but he would be a big surprise to make his presence felt vs these other game colts.
# 2 Antigravity:
As I write this I’m actually smiling as this guy has won both of his starts at Monmouth Park, and over the last month as well. Funny stuff 😊. I say that because he was 0 for 10 in his previous 10 maiden starts, then graduated and rallied to win his optional claimer start for 16,000 in the slop. Jerry Hollendorfer has been red hot locally at Monmouth and he saddles David Cohen for the task. His works for this race are rather pedestrian, and I’m smiling because clearly, he is completely outclassed by this field. He should be on the board at 75-1 but even still, some of the locals will be betting him. He’s a complete toss for me, very likely to finish 6th or dead last. Save your money
# 7 Basso:
Really? C’mon man, this gray colt is making only his 2nd start after being on the shelf for 7 months, and he did nearly no productive running in his return, finishing 9+ lengths behind my 6th choice above, Antigravity and he’s also been defeated by my 5th choice Pickin Time. His works are slow, his race times are slow, his Beyer Speed ratings are slow. I have always respected Gregory Sacco his trainer, and his rider Castillo knows the track and is pretty good but this horse is simply scientifically eliminated. There is absolutely no shot of him winning this race, and it’s likely the best he can do is 5th if he ran his career best race. #7 is typically a lucky number, but for this race, unless you enjoy tearing up tickets, I would ignore it entirely.
A complete toss, not worthy of any bet or consideration.
Well there you have it, I want to thank you again for your continued readership and let’s go and make some money. Enjoy the day at the races!