JULY 31, 2010

Dear Diary,

No one with a modicum of fairness can argue with certitude that Sunday’s Haskell Invitational is not the three-year-old race of 2010. It features, as has been stated here before, the Kentucky Derby winner vs. the Preakness winner vs. the Florida Derby winner and a host of promising upstarts.

This field has been so good as to draw comparisons with the granddaddy of all Haskells, the 1987 renewal, in which Belmont winner Bet Twice defeated Derby winner Alysheba by a neck with the sensationally fast upstart from the Midwest, Lost Code, another neck farther back in third.

Sunday’s renewal has the potential to be all that. The Derby winner, Super Saver, must prove he isn’t one of those one-Derby wonders, another Monarchos or, less flatteringly, Giacomo. And anyone who brings up Gato Del Sol is just, well, wicked cold; that’s just going much too far.

The Preakness winner, meanwhile, is Lookin At Lucky, acknowledged by many as the class of the crop that still owns upside potential. Looking at some of his narrow victories, or even his neck loss in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, showed that side of him that just wants to beat you.

Everyone knows that Ice Box is better than his effort in the Belmont shows, much better, and that he will be a factor to rebound in the Haskell like Alysheba did in 1987, even if he didn‘t win it all. And although Trappe Shot doesn’t hail from the Midwest, he’s the speedy unknown that might prove the equal of them all.

While the Haskell of 1987 featured an intriguing matchup, one that would go a long way in determining the divisional champion or, at the least, an up-to-the-minute pecking order, is was not without its controversial back-story, the use of a legal medication called Lasix.

Alysheba, of course, not only won the Derby but the Preakness, too, and went into Belmont Park with a chance to become a three-year-old immortal. And while Lasix was legal in Kentucky and Maryland at that time, it was still banned in New York.

Did Lasix help Alysheba to perform at his best? Well, prior to the Derby he lost seven or eight without it. The controversy started moments after Alysheba checked in a non-threatening 4th at Belmont Park. Trainer Jack Van Berg, accused of “moving up” Alysheba with the use of Lasix, decided not to run Alysheba with Lasix at Monmouth Park. Besides, he was also pointing his horse toward the Travers in Lasix-free Saratoga.

As a first-time Lasix user, the speedy Lost Code won the Hoop Jr. Stakes at Birmingham Turf Club. Remember Birmingham Turf Club? You know, in Alabama, that hotbed of thoroughbred activity?

If you blinked, you missed the Birmingham Turf Club meet. The marketing plan included making it a trendy upscale destination. The problem is those terms weren’t spoken in 1987. In any case, Lost Code became the hot horse of that Haskell, the way Trappe Shot will be on Sunday.

In the Haskell Lost Code went immediately to the front, stalked closely by Bet Twice with Alysheba, as usual, biding his time, although from closer to the early pace than usual given the measured fractions and the speed-biased nature of the Monmouth oval back in the day.

Bet Twice was first to attack at headstretch but Lost Code was holding gamely. Alysheba had been saving ground to this point but was tipped off the rail by Chris McCarron after straightening into the stretch and the race was on. It was Bet Twice who edged clear and narrowly held off the Derby winner. Tough beat, all the way around.

Will Sunday’s Haskell horses be remembered as favorably as those Haskell colts of ‘87. It’s time for some colt to step up and separate himself from the group. Handicappers can make a serious case for half the field, and that might give short shrift to a couple of the others.

Call me romantic, but I’ve not given up on this three-year-old class, even if some of them can’t run faster than me on performance figures. But some of the new shooters can.

And some of the name brand colts, too. I’ve been a ‘Lucky’ fan since the colt was 2, especially after his Juvenile trip from hell. A lesser colt wouldn’t even have come close and he nearly won it. In the absence of stardom, I’ll settle for a carbon copy of the finish in ‘87. As for Lasix at this point in time, it's the least of racing's issues.