Blogs Haskell Blog July 16

Posted by Brian Skirka on Sunday, July 17, 2016 11:53 AM
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Star-Studded Field Coming Together for Haskell

By Dean Keppler


It’s official! The big horse, his trainer Doug O’Neill, and owners Paul and Zillah Reddham are coming to New Jersey! “We’re headed to New Jersey,” said O’Neill. “He very much impressed us this morning with his work. Mario Gutierrez was aboard and he looked really solid. We’re pumped up and can’t wait to get to New Jersey.”


O’Neill isn’t the only one energized about the colt’s appearance at Monmouth Park for this year’ s edition of the $1 million dollar Haskell Invitational sponsored by Once the connections of Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist decided to make his next stop official in the Grade 1 Haskell, Monmouth Park’s premier summer 3-year-old showdown got the shot in the arm it was hoping for to help solidify its all-star lineup. As of this writing, there appears to be a handful of major 3-year-old contenders looking to take aim at the Eclipse award/Kentucky Derby winning colt as he makes his first start since being defeated by Exaggerator in the May 21 Preakness.


One such colt is the rapidly improving, lightly-raced 3-year-old American Freedom trained by Bob Baffert and owned by Mary and Gary West. American Freedom (a 2014 $500K Keeneland purchase) has won 3 of 4 career starts and is hoping to use his recent 4 ¾-length victory in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby at Prairie Downs on July 1 as a stepping stone to the Haskell winner’s circle. The colt’s recent eye-catching 5-furlong drill out at Del Mar last Thursday morning stamped his future arrival to the Jersey Shore. Baffert, winner of the Betfair,com Haskell a record eight times, had this to say recently in the Asbury Park Press regarding his talented colt’s chances against Nyquist. “He’s ready for him now,’’ said Baffert as he prepared for Friday’s opening day at Del Mar. “He was behind. Nyquist was an early developer. This horse was just a slow developer, and then they start catching up. It’s a nice group of 3-year-olds out there and you’re going to start to see a lot of movement, a lot of changes, different winners.’’ If Baffert’s assumption is correct, things could get extremely interesting for the battle for top 3-year-old as the racing calendar comes to an end in a few months. 


The probable second or third choice in the wagering in the Haskell will be the Steve Asmussen-trained Winchell Thoroughbred-owned Gun Runner-- the recent 5 ¼-length winner of the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs. Gun Runner, the son of Candy Ride, took both the Grade 2 Risen Star and Louisiana Derby earlier in the year, while finishing a strong third in this year’s Kentucky Derby. His recent works at Saratoga indicate he’s on his toes, and deserves a long look as a major threat to upset the Kentucky Derby winner and grab his first Grade 1 victory. After the Haskell, Asmussen is planning on shipping his top 3-year-old back up to Saratoga to hopefully join Belmont Stakes winner Creator as both start pre-race preparations for the Grade 1 Travers on August 27. A win by Gun Runner in the Grade 1 Haskell would certainly tighten up the 3-year-old divisional honor championship race.  


Others on the fringe of a potential start include Mo Tom (By Uncle Mo) trained by Tom Amoss. This colt won the Ohio Derby at Thistledown three weeks ago on June 25 and according to the Daily Racing Form his connections are still undecided on whether to run in the Grade 1 Haskell or Grade 2 Jim Dandy the day before. Since Tom has a strong late kick, he may not be suited for Monmouth’s premier race if there’s not enough early zip to facilitate his late run. “A lot regarding our decision where to run will be dependent on what we feel the pace scenario will be in both races,” said Amoss. “It’s no secret our horse comes from behind, and we want to find the race that gives us the proper setup for our horse.”


Some additional entrants may include recent Long Branch stakes winner No Distortion trained by Larry Jones. The son of Distorted Humor finally put it all together in winning his first stakes race with jockey Gabriel Saez. Shadwell Stable’s striking gray colt Mohaymen, the fourth-place finisher in the Kentucky Derby, and winner of the Grade 2 Nashua, Remsen, Holy Bull and Fountain of Youth Stakes is pointing to either the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 30 or the Grade 1 Haskell according to his trainer Kiaran McLaughlin. Trainer Dale Roman’s entered his colt Cherry Wine in Saturday’s Grade 2 $500,000 Indiana Derby where he was installed as the 5/2 morning line favorite, but has decided to take his other colt multiple Grade 1 winner Brody’s Cause to the Haskell to add even more intrigue to the race. This son of Giant’s Causeway won the Toyota Grade 1 Bluegrass at Keeneland on April 9, and then finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby and sixth in the Belmont Stakes.  


And finally, another colt now being reconsidered for the race is recent Pegasus Stakes winner Donegal Moon trained by Todd Pletcher. The 3-time winning Malibu Moon colt failed to meet his reserve by only $100,000 after a final $1.6 million dollar bid at the Fasig-Tipton July sale. He could very well return to the track and train up to the race.


By next week’s blog entry, we should have a good handle on the probable race starters. I’ll start dissecting the possible race flow and throw some early handicapping thoughts and trends out to the readers. It’s shaping up to be a tremendous race!


In less than 2 weeks New Jersey residents will be making history as being the first legalized state in America to be permitted to wager on the Haskell on the exchange. Exchange wagering was launched on May 10. For those looking to take a stand against the likely heavy favorite Nyquist, they’ll be able to load up on the “Bet Against” option and create value where it might not ordinarily exist. 


For more information on New Jersey exchange wagering, go to: or follow  


About Dean Keppler
Dean Keppler has been handicapping Thoroughbreds and Standardbreds for over 30 years, and is the former Director of DRF Press for Daily Racing Form. He's authored two handicapping books for DRF titled: “Trainer Angles” and “Betting the Kentucky Derby,” and has published several handicapping articles for Horseplayer Magazine. Keppler is an NHC qualifier, and his work has appeared in Forbes Magazine, Paulick Report, New York Times, The Saratoga Special, and several other prolific publications. 


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