Coil unleashed a powerful run through the stretch that carried him to a sharp victory in Sunday’s $1 million Resorts Casino Hotel Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park, putting him squarely in the race for 3-year-old championship honors.
A crowd of 38,895 saw the lightly raced colt give trainer Bob Baffert his fifth victory in Monmouth’s signature race and second in a row after last year’s score by Lookin At Lucky, who also raced in the colors of Mike Pegram and partners and was ridden by jockey Martin Garcia
With the victory in the 44th running of the Haskell, Coil earned an automatic starting berth in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic that will be run on Nov. 5.
After a slight bobble at the break, Coil was far off the pace early, and entering the stretch turn was still last. But he made a monster move around the turn to reach contention nearing the quarter-pole, and then turned on the afterburners to run down a stubborn Shackleford, the Preakness winner and 3-2 favorite, at the wire for a neck score.
Ruler On Ice, the Belmont Stakes winner, was third, two and a quarter lengths farther back, and a half-length in front of J J’s Lucky Train. They were followed to the wire by Pants on Fire, Joe Vann, Astrology and Concealed Identity.
Coil (by Point Given, who was Baffert’s first Haskell winner in 2001) raced the mile and an eighth in 1:48.20 to take down the winner’s prize of $600,000. It was his first score in a Grade 1 event, and gave him a record of four wins in six lifetime starts for the partnership of Karl Watson, Mike Pegram and Paul Weitman.
Sent off the second choice in the field of eight, Coil paid $8.40, $4.80 and $3.60 across the board and topped a $31.40 exacta with Shackleford, who returned $3.20 and $2.60. Ruler On Ice paid $4 to show.
Shackleford raced near the front from the start under Jesus Castanon and gained a clear lead once straightened into the stretch. The Forestry colt opened a daylight margin, but Coil was on him at the eighth pole. The two battled to the wire, with Shackleford tenacious in defeat.
Baffert said after the race that his heart sank when Coil came out at the back of the field.
“He didn’t break well, and at that point I thought the race was over,” the trainer said. “Down the backstretch, I thought he was going to have to be like his dad, Point Given, to win.
“In the stretch, when he was passing Shackleford, it was almost like I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Baffert said. “Martin (Garcia) knows this horse. He knows him better than I do.”
For his part, Garcia said it wasn’t in the game plan to be last for much of the race.
“He was ready at the break,” the jockey said, “but just before the gate opened, he stepped back a bit and that was that. I wasn’t planning on being that far back, but once that happened I didn’t have a choice. I took him off the fence going up the backstretch, because that didn’t seem to be the best place today.
“I was sitting on a ton of horse turning for home,” Garcia said. “When I got to Shackleford my horse kind of waited. He tends to do that when he makes the lead. I just kept getting into him. I knew I had Shackleford, but my horse made it interesting.”
Castanon, Shackleford’s rider, offered no excuses.
“I had a good trip,” he said. “He ran a good race like he always does. This is the way he likes to run. He was sitting in a perfect spot. I was pleased with his effort. He gave me his best. When the other horse came up to me, my horse felt him and was fighting back.”
Dale Romans, who trains Shackleford, said, “We got a great trip. He took the lead turning for home and dug in once Baffert’s horse came up. It looked like he was digging in very gamely in deep stretch. I thought he was going to come back and win it,” Romans said.
Trainer Kelly Breen, who saddled both Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire for George and Lori Hall, said he will continue on the championship trail with his Belmont winner.
“It’s on to the Travers for Ruler On Ice,” Breen said. “Jose (jockey Valdivia Jr.) said he was good. They just kind of quickened going to the third quarter and it took him a while to get going.”