The 2018 Haskell Invitational Grade 1
Purse $1 million
By Georgio Sette
The winner of the 2018 Haskell Invitational will be entitled to an automatic entry to the 2018 Breeders Cup Classic this autumn. We have reached the 50th year since it inaugurated back in 1968.
This 9 furlong classic has hosted numerous champions who went on to have fabulous racing careers, and it is still one of the more anticipated races.
Yes, for certain the race has lost some of its luster due to the announcement of Triple Crown winner Justify’s retirement, but it will, as always exhibit some of the very best three-year-old’s in training. It’s the Monmouth Park seasonal headliner, with seven colts entered to take their shot at history. I have completed a very detailed handicapping process, including a lifetime past performance statistical breakdown, video analysis of specific moves and strides, behavioral patterns, workout willingness and performance, and good old fashion bloodlines/pedigree reconciliation.
The following is my precise anticipated order of finish. Let’s go!
# 6 Good Magic – This lightly raced son of Curlin began his career in fabulous fashion, becoming a two year old champion with his smashing victory in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, He then took about 5 months off to begin his three-year old campaign, and was the odds on choice to win the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth. He was a disappointing 3rd that day, running evenly and showing no tenacity to gain in the stretch, but since that day, so much has changed and he has become a horse with some guts in his stretch runs. In a huge field of 14 in the Grade 2 Blue Grass Stakes, he broke from the 10 hole, came out determined and was a driving winner. Then later, he showed great heart in chasing the now retired Triple Crown winner Justify in the slop at both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, fully extending himself both times, only to come up short.
Since the middle of May, he’s been freshened and working smartly, and he comes into this race without Justify as an opponent, and the field’s top purse earner. His connections of Chad Brown was and Jose Ortiz are as good as the great industry can provide. I feel he prefers a dry strip and he’s proven to adapt to all new surfaces. His versatility in that regard speaks for itself as he raced over 7 different tracks in his 7 career races. He’s never been off the board on a fast/dry track, and I’m looking for him to get a clean break, Ortiz to keep a firm hold on him for position. He’s likely to sit 3rd or 4th facing moderate fractions, then I expect him to explode down the lane for a “Class Convincing” win.
Simply said, I handicapped this race 9 ways till Tuesday, and could not logically put anyone else on top. To me, with Justify retired, he’s the best three year old in training.
# 4 Core Beliefs – I’m actually very impressed with this colt’s developing ways. He’s a powerful colt that has exhibited great heart in several of his stretch runs. His connections have slated him to be a champion. He never raced as a two year old ( just like Justify) beginning his career on the West coast, and after breaking his maiden at Santa Anita, he was ambitiously entered in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby, finishing an even 3rd to a dominating Justify. He then began to show his heart with a super solid Grade 3 Peter Pan effort at Belmont Park. He stumbled at the start that day on an off track. He later showed a great turn of speed as he rallied into the stretch, only to be eventually passed by a driving Blended Citizen.
So, considering how he broke and his early challenges, he ran huge that day in defeat and he proved to take the 9 furlong distance. Then, just a month ago, he was totally smashing closing 5 wide on the turn, a very long drive off the pace to win the Ohio Derby, just a nose ahead of Lone Sailor. He also posted his career best speed rating. He’s had 3 works, weeks apart and I feel he’s ready for his very best effort. He picks up Flavien Prat in the saddle whom I trust very much. Prat will be the 5th jockey to ride him in his 7 races. I’m expecting him to show tactical speed & to be my top choice’s main menace as they run through the final furlong.
# 3 Roaming Union – This son of Union Rags ( who won the Belmont Stakes) steps up greatly to his first graded stakes, but he’s never been better. I trust Kelly Breen’s barn and he’s been working brilliantly in his morning drills over the same Monmouth soil. This is something that gives me more confidence in him as he will need to run his career best speed figure with this escalated group of colts.
He’s only 1 for 11 overall, but 6 for 11 in the money, and 3 for 3 showing $$ at the distance. I’m feeling if the pace is moderate enough, perhaps he’ll hang on for Trifecta or Superfecta monies. In considering how game he was in his last start and his flashy workouts, perhaps it’s written in the cards for his career best.
# 1 Lone Sailor – Long time Monmouth leading Jockey and Jersey boy, Joe Bravo, takes over the silks, so I guess that’s a plus. This colt has lots of natural talent, but has been a major disappointment to his connections. He’s only 1 for 11, but with 4 strong 2nd’s for place.
In most of those races, he was in a position to win, but fell just short ( a head, a neck & a nose). Irad Ortiz leaving him is not a good sign, and he’s 0 for 6 in 2018. He does come into this race with a few smart breezes, but he will need a very fast pace to mount a serious close as they pass the 8th pole, I gave him a pass for his horrible trip in the Kentucky Derby and I’m impressed with his three +93 speed figures, so perhaps with a perfect trip and pace he can better my rating. I just wish I saw a little more of him to add more confidence.
# 5 Bravazo – Most racing fans have gotten used to his name, of course, because he ran in each of Justify’s Triple Crown march. He’ll be in the very capable hands of Jockey Saez and is saddled by Racing legend D Wayne Lukas, but this is one mentally challenged colt. I watched him several times become hard to handle in the paddock and during post parades.
As a two year old, he showed signs of brilliance, and then he has races showing the deadest of efforts, almost as if he wasn’t trying. My case in point is in the Louisiana Derby where, with Hall of Fame Jockey, Gary Stevens in the silks, he was in perfect striking position, totally in the clear sitting 3rd on the outside, then he just lugged out and hung like a chandelier. Later on he showed solid determined promise in closing late in the slop at both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes.
Yes, he’s got grade 1 class, but to me he’s a risk because you just don’t know where he’ll be mentally, so in the end, he’ll offer little betting value at less than 5-1. I respect his trainer who’s won this race before, but the best I can do for him here is perhaps a late rally into the superfecta. His best could be hitting the board for a share, but you will need his best.
# 2 Navy Commander This gelding ( from December 2017) comes off an impressive wire to wire driving clear win over this Monmouth strip. So yes, if speed is your thing, he’s got some early foot, The problem here was that his wire to wire gallop was a slow waltz around the track, and he was never challenged. He’s had trouble and a few excuses in other races, and he definitely has a “nose for the wire” as his 5 victories lead this field by a wide margin, yes he likes to win, but he’s beaten much much lesser and steps up tremendously in class here.
His connections are average at best, and even though he’s got the propensity to emerge a winner, it would be a shocker to me if he did so in this spot. Passing for sure….
# 7 Golden Brown – He’s been consistent and reliable throughout 2018, but is coming off two races on the weeds, and clearly I feel he prefers the lawn. He does possess decent gate speed, but fitness is a major question in this spot. His works are lackluster and he is facing a superior field of open class 3 year olds. This is a Jersey bred colt whom I believe with have some solid grade 3 success, especially facing state bred colts on the grass.
He’ll be 35-1 but should be 75-1, Strictly for those that play their ‘Lucky 7″ or connect with his name because they have “Golden Brown” hair… He’s 6 for 7 in the money, and at the end of the day, he’ll be 6 for 8.
Well there you have it: The main contenders for the 2018 Haskell. I will see you next time for some fabulous Grade 1 Races coming up in August and September which will all lead up to the Breeders’ Cup Super Saturday for the Breeders Cup Classic and full card of Championship races.
Geo is a long time handicapper and student of the game. He has spent a lot of time at all the New York racetracks and puts in the work. He is an astute player who is not afraid to go out on a limb at the right time, but knows enough to not force or push anything. Geo will be a contributor to Past the Wire going forward especially on the big days.