News & Barn notes

Kentucky Derby Winner Nyquist Installed as 6/5 Favorite For Sunday’s $1 Million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park

July 28, 2016


OCEANPORT, NJ – Reddam Racing LLC’s Nyquist, the reigning Kentucky Derby winner, will go postward as the favorite in a stellar field entered today for the 49th renewal of the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Sunday.

The Haskell, which was won by Triple Crown champion and eventual Horse of the Year American Pharoah one year ago, attracted a compact but exceptional field for one of North America’s most prestigious and important races for 3-year-olds.  

The Haskell Invitational is a Breeders’ Cup “Win & You’re In” event for the Breeders’ Cup Classic division and will be telecast live on NBC.

The Haskell will be the first rematch for 6-5 favorite Nyquist, who will break from the rail under regular rider Mario Gutierrez, and 2016 Preakness Stakes winner Exaggerator, the 5-2 second choice who retains the services of Hall of Fame rider Kent Desormeaux and drew the far outside post.

Gun Runner, the third place finisher in the Kentucky Derby who is trained by 2016 Hall of Fame entrant Steve Asmussen, will take on Nyquist and Exaggerator again for the first time since they matched up on the first Saturday in May at Churchill Downs. The Grade 2 Louisiana Derby winner, installed as the 4-1 fourth choice, is owned by Winchell Thoroughbreds LLC, Three Chimneys Farm, LLC and Besilu Stables and will depart from Post 4 under Florent Geroux.

Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who holds the record for Haskell victories with eight and has won five of the last six runnings, including last year’s edition with American Pharoah, sent Grade 3 Iowa Derby winner American Freedom from his Southern California base. Live Oak Plantation’s Awesome Slew and Sunny Ridge, both of whom are based at Monmouth, round out the field.

In interesting twists of fate, brothers-in-law Eddie Plesa, Jr. and Jason Servis, who train Awesome Slew and Sunny Ridge, respectively, will compete against one another. The New Jersey-bred Sunny Ridge was bred and is owned by Dennis Drazin, the advisor to Darby Development LLC, the horsemen’s association which operates the racetrack.

“If one year ago, after American Pharoah’s Haskell victory, you would have told me I was looking at this type of event, I would have said ‘Sign me up now,’” said Bob Kulina, president of Darby Development LLC, operator of the racetrack.“To have the first three finishers in the Kentucky Derby, a second (Preakness) Triple Crown race winner, and throw in a horse from Bob Baffert who is an intriguing question mark, and with my dear friend Eddie Plesa and his brother-in-law, and having a rooting interest in Dennis Drazin’s Sunny Ridge, you couldn’t have asked for a better field or a greater race.”

Keith Desormeaux, who trains Exaggerator for Big Chief Racing LLC, Head of Plains Partners LLC and Rocker O Ranch, expects the son of Curlin to rebound from his 11th place finish in the Belmont Stakes last time out.

“The far outside post is perfect for my horse,” said Desormeaux. “He’s an off-the-pace style runner. The inside runners can shoot away from there, go to the front, and he can watch all of the goings on from the outside and take back and make his run when he’s ready.”

As for the rematch with the Kentucky Derby winner, Desormeaux said, “Those kinds of things are always fun. Nyquist is a top horse and it’s always fun to outrun top competition.”

Doug O’Neill, who will saddle Nyquist and is a two-time Kentucky Derby-winning trainer, said that his colt is completely recovered from the illness that knocked him out of the Belmont and he is up to the Haskell challenge.

“He’s doing really well and his last works have been exceptional. I thought his last work was the best I’ve seen out of him in a long time,” O’Neill said. “We’re coming into this race with a lot of optimism. Obviously, Gun Runner is super impressive and Exaggerator is an awfully good horse, too. I think this is a very deep field. I hope Nyquist brings one of his better races because he’s going to need one of his better races to win. I hope he’s going to run real hard, and real tough.”

The Haskell will be contested as the 12th race of 14 on the card that also includes four other graded stakes races. The gates will open early on Haskell Day at 10 a.m., with the first race scheduled for 12 noon and post time for the Haskell is 5:47 p.m. [EDT].

For tickets to this year’s 49th renewal of the Haskell Invitational, call 732-571-5563, visit, or stop by the reserved seat ticket booth on the second floor of the Grandstand any live race date.

The field, with riders and odds from the rail out is: Nyquist, Mario Gutierrez, 6-5; Sunny Ridge, Nik Juarez, 20-1; Awesome Slew, Paco Lopez, 15-1; Gun Runner, Florent Geroux, 4-1; American Freedom, Rafael Bejarano, 3-1; and, Exaggerator, Kent Desormeaux, 5-2.