News & Barn notes

Mandella Mulling Over His Options With Geaux Rocket Ride Following Saturday’s Win In Grade 1 Haskell Stakes

July 23, 2023

On Sunday morning trainer Richard Mandella was a man with a lot to think about.

Though his charge Geaux Rocket Ride won Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park at 1 1/8 miles decisively, earning a guaranteed spot in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at 1¼ miles at Santa Anita on Nov. 4 through the “Win and You’re In” Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, the pathway to get him there remains undecided.

“We’ll be making plans as he tells us,” the Hall of Famer said in the immediate aftermath of a 1¾-length victory over Kentucky Derby winner Mage.

After the long flight home to Southern California and in the light of day nothing had changed.

Nevertheless, the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby at 1 1/8 miles at Parx (restricted to 3-year-olds) on Sept. 23 and two Grade 1s open to sophomores plus older horses – Del Mar’s $1 million Pacific Classic at 1¼ miles on Sept. 2 and Santa Anita’s $300,000 Awesome Again Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Sept. 30 – are in the mix.

“I’ll think about all of those races and about running against older horses,” said Mandella, who reported that Pin Oak Stud’s Geaux Rocket Ride came out of the Haskell in good shape.

Nonetheless, the Grade 1, $1.25 million Travers Stakes at 1¼ miles for 3-year-olds at Saratoga on Aug. 26 remains a non-starter.

“I think it’s too much to think about, taking him to Saratoga,” Mandella said. “He’s young and he’s not raced very much and we’ve pushed him along to get to this point.

“I don’t like the idea of bringing him to Monmouth, bringing him back to California, and then coming back for the Travers. We pushed him to this point and we don’t want to keep pushing. The Travers doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.”

With his Haskell score Geaux Rocket Ride became a graded stakes winner and improved his record to three wins and one second in four starts with $780,000 in earnings.

He also gave Mandella his second win in the Haskell – 23 years after his first one in his only other appearance. He won the 2000 edition with Dixie Union.

Geaux Rocket Ride, a son of Candy Ride (ARG) out of the Uncle Mo mare Beyond Grace, had been on the Triple Crown trail via the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby in early April. But when he came up with a fever and a high white cell count on the morning of the Santa Anita Derby it was back to the drawing board.

He won the June 4 Affirmed Stakes, which set him up perfectly for the Haskell.

“He had us dreaming pretty high and still does,” said Mandella.

Having the Breeders’ Cup right in the stable’s back yard at Santa Anita could give Geaux Rocket Ride homefield advantage.

“It does if you’re fast enough,” Mandella said. “We think he’s fast enough and so far he’s passed every test. But that’s another step up to get to the Classic and it’s against older horses so we’ll just have to wait and see if he leads us there.”

Geaux Rocket Ride and the Bob Baffert-trained Arabian Knight, the third-place Haskell finisher, were scheduled to jet back to Southern California on Tuesday.


Story by Lynne Snierson

of the Monmouth Park publicity staff