The 2019 Haskell Invitational

July 18, 2019

Our ace handicapper Georgio Sette goes for a repeat of last year’s Haskell with his detailed analysis and predicted order of finish in the 2019 Haskell Invitational. A heat wave is looming but Geo is hoping it holds off and Monmouth can safely run their marquee invitational event on schedule.

The $1,000.000.00 Grade 1 2019 Haskell Invitational   

Monmouth Park, Race 12, Post Time estimated: 5:49 EST

Geo Sette #READY

We have reached that special point in the year when you know we’re in the middle of the summer where Saratoga is in full swing with the best racing in the country and Monmouth Park is again hosting their marquee racing card of the season. 

The 2019 Haskell Invitational, of course, headlines the special 14 race card, and although some of the better three-year olds in training are bypassing the event for featured starts at Saratoga, it’s still a compelling race, nationally televised, and with the entire industry watching closely. 

Over the years I have attended this race numerous times just to be part of the pageantry, it is by far the biggest sporting event at the Jersey Shore. They have always given out free Haskell baseball caps, so along with that nice summer breeze that is Oceanport New Jersey, a huge crowd is expected, no doubt taking up just about every available space in the picnic area even though the forecast is calling for a hot and sticky day. 

Hardcore fans and casual fans alike have always made this a day to circle on their summer calendar, and with great anticipation, always show up. 

There have been numerous champions who have surfaced out of this great race, including Triple Crown Winner, American Pharoah, who thrilled the crowd back in 2015.  So often as you might expect, winners of the Triple Crown races emerge victorious here at the Haskell ( Big Brown in 2008, Exaggerator in 2016, Lookin at Lucky in 2010 and the filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009) just to name a few.

There have also been many three-year olds who developed later in the year and fired their best shot at the Haskell, like in 2013 who can forget when Verrazano romped to a near 10-length victory, the most dominating this race has ever seen. 

One major thing to keep in mind is that the Haskell is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race which awards the winner a free spot in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Classic, so for obvious reasons, there’s so much on the line. 

This year’s field unfortunately is limited to 7 entries; however,  what was fascinating to me as a handicapper, is that every horse in the field has exhibited the propensity to run extremely well early out of the gate. Many showing high speed energy, while others the raw ability to be tactical, this providing a stalking presence just behind the leader. So with that said I had to dig deeper into the available archives of pedigree and past performances, and went even greater into my film study. It is there where I notice the heart and the willingness to have something more to give in the final furlong. 

This is precisely how I see the race shaping out. It’s a good race to be rather aggressive with your play, whether you lean on and be decisive across the board with my winner, or dig deeper into the available Exactas, Trifectas and Superfectas.  As always I am hoping the information I am providing will help you make an informed decision for yourself at the windows. 

Here is my best order of finish, now let’s go get-em 

# 5 Mucho Gusto 

This colt, purchased for an impressive $625,000.00, has not disappointed his connections. He comes into this race a three-time grade 3 winner, finished in the money in all of his 7 career starts, and shows a nose for the wire, winning 5 times.  Joe Talamo who was aboard him for all 7 races, is back in the saddle again for Bob Baffert who has won this race a record 8 times. Let’s face it, you cannot argue with success. Obviously Bob knows what he’s doing when bringing in his horses from the West Coast to race here at Monmouth.  If you follow the sport well, you know that he’s got other quality three-year old colts who are not here for the race. Mucho Gusto, sired by Mucho Macho Man, blew away stablemate Roadster in the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes, confidently going three wide as they turned for home and then romping all the way to the wire.   This made me dig deeper into many of his other races at different tracks and surfaces which made me believe in him even more. I loved seeing his extremely alert starts. Often getting out of the gate in front during the first 50 to 100 yards, but then calmly and almost systematically settling to allow others to take over, but still showing a menacing presence just behind. I feel that can be greatly instrumental in a race like this which is packed with front running speed. He’s got a Jockey that knows him very well, and he’s got a couple of 6 furlong bullets which demonstrate his overall fitness and what I feel will be the willingness to take on this 9 furlong distance. I’m feeling the fractions will be swift enough for him to mount his rather typical powerful stride as they run down the lane passing the eighth pole.

He’s my top choice to have his picture taken in the winner’s circle. 

# 1 King for a Day

 One can argue that this guy has been rounding into his best form and perhaps heading to a new level of superstar status.

Sired by Uncle Mo and Grand Sired By Indian Charlie, purchased for $125,000.   In his 5 career starts, he’s raced over 5 different tracks with his latest a super stretch run effort running down the 1/9 favorite Maximum Security. 

Two-time Haskell winner Johnny Velazquez is back in the saddle for Todd Pletcher (who has also won this race three times).  I’m expecting a smart ride from the inside, breaking alertly showing some tactical speed and saving ground while establishing his best position for a threatening stretch run.  His speed ratings have improved with all 5 of his starts, and he looks to be well spotted to hit the board with these. The only race he was off the board ( and still finishing 4th) was in a 14 horse field in the slop at Churchill Downs. 

# 7 Maximum Security

 By now we all know about what happened in the Kentucky Derby. Yes he ran a big race on Derby day, but he veered out and rightfully was disqualified.  He then took 5 weeks off and ran locally here at Monmouth where he was defeated by my 2nd choice King For a Day.  He did stumble some at the start, but recovered quickly and then had every chance to win the race ( seriously 1/9 odds on shots typically win their races around 98% of the time) but he failed to get the job done.  He is a talented horse from a top (Jason Servis) barn and he does have the talented Luis Saez in the saddle. Although he’s run four consecutive triple digit Beyers, even still I cannot endorse him higher than  being my 3rd choice ( I originally had him slated for 4th, but moved him up out of respect). His AM drills have been awfully slow breezes which has me concerned about his overall fitness ( two half mile breezes in 53.4  & 53.2) something you don’t expect from a “Triple Crown” colt. Does he have the raw talent to better my rating? Absolutely, but considering his lack of value at the windows, I’m using my top two much more in my higher wages as they simply look better on film coming into this race.  He should break with nice speed as he typically does, but I’m not sure he’ll want to be eye-balled which is very likely to happen.

He’s my 3rd choice today. 

# 4 Bethlehem Road  

This guy by Quality Road is a young gelding who is the only horse in the field who did not race as a two-year old. 

He was extremely impressive winning his first three starts over at PARX in Pennsylvania.

In all three races he demonstrated quality speed as well as a willingness to keep going with his Jockey’s urging.  His rider, Angel Rodriguez, is his regular Jockey and is usually dependable over on his local track. In his last, his owners shipped him to Ohio to run in the Ohio Derby ( Grade 3) where he was bumped at the start.  Although he recovered nicely, he didn’t have anything left as they turned for home. I’m selecting him 4th here because I’m getting the feeling he just didn’t like the surface there and now he’s ambitiously being entered in this Grade One Haskell for a cool Million Dollar purse. Hmm, interesting, perhaps his speed will last long enough for a share with these. 

# 2 Joevia  

Speedy colt who surprised many (including this writer) when his speed carried into deep stretch while racing in the 12 furlong marathon and rather daunting, Belmont Stakes.  Top rider Jose Lezcano is back on board for Gregory Sacco and he comes into this race with a sizzling handily workout over this same Monmouth soil. Speaking of Monmouth, he may very well be a “Horse for the Course” as his two lifetime victories came over this same strip; albeit over sloppy tracks. So if for some reason the track ends up sloppy after a thunderous storm, then you can offer him some added consideration. But if it’s dry ( and it’s likely to be hot and steamy) I feel he may be challenged too much with his speed and perhaps used up in what could be a speed duel during the first 6 panels. In a race like this, the last 3 furlongs will tell it all.  He’s a nice racehorse and will win more races in his career, just not feeling his chances today.

He’s my 5th choice. 

# 3 Spun To Run   

This guy was one that was hard to figure on film. It took him 5 races to break his maiden, but he could have done it sooner, habitually settling for minor shares of his purses. Even so, I feel he’s still developing and improving. He’s stepping up greatly in class here coming out of a middle range Optional Claimer, so consider him ambitiously entered as well.  He does pick up the services of local jockey, Paco Lopez, who knows this strip very well, and they are putting blinkers on him for good measure. I was impressed with his tactical ability, but then was disappointed because he did show some guts and heart but didn’t finish races as I thought he would. His speed ratings and overall performances are simply below many of these. He’ll need to run his career best race to make some noise in this field, and despite his last two races being rather dynamic, those he beat were inferior to many in this field. 

Simply said, I need to see more in a better class before I make an investment with a horse like this. 

# 6 Everfast  

This guy is by far the most experienced colt in this field with 12 lifetime starts.  I must admit it, as a handicapper, he has some how proven me wrong not once but twice.  I had him greatly shorted in both the Preakness Stakes and The Belmont Stakes, but somehow, some way, he ended up performing his two career best Beyers. I’m still perplexed how he turned it around.  Even still, he’s only 1 for 11 on a fast surface, and he’s being saddled with his 5th different Jockey in his last 5 races (Julian Leparoux).  In the Florida Derby, my 3rd choice Maximum Security defeated him by 15 lengths where he was cooked after 6 furlongs.  I have always respected his trainer Dale Romans who has shown some flashes in big races, but with how this field is set up, even with a potential fast pace, I cannot endorse putting this guy in the money, perhaps finally I will get him right.

Tossing him….

Ok, well there you have it, I want to thank you again for reading my column and for any comments you may want to share.  Enjoy the race and if you’re in attendance (I will not be this year),  stay cool out there and be aggressive with your window decisions. I’m hoping I have provided some useful information for you.  Enjoy! 

Let’s Go! 


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Geo Sette

Geo serves multiple roles at Past the Wire. He is a columnist, handicapper, and analyst. Geo has been fascinated with the Sport of Kings since...

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