August 1, 2010

OCEANPORT, New Jersey--August 1, 2010

For an instant, but only for that brief moment in time, the Haskell crowd was going to be treated to what most had come to see; the tie-breaker between Kentucky Derby winning Super Saver and Preakness champion Lookin At Lucky.

In a matter of strides, however, it was juvenile champion Lookin At Lucky getting a leg up on the sophomore championship by drawing off to a compressive four length score in the 43rd renewal of the Izod Haskell Invitational in 1:49.83 for nine furlongs.

Trappe Shot made a game, wide rally to secure the place in the shadow of the wire. A photograph was needed to separate the next two finishers, pace setting First Dude out bobbing Super Saver at the wire.

Mario Andretti's Car, Winner of 1969 Indy 500
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Mario Andretti's Car, Winner of 1969 Indy 500
The final result was a formful as the running of Monmouth Park’s signature event. The speedy First Dude broke like a shot to take the lead, followed closely by Our Dark Knight, with Super Saver outside both of them in third.

At this point, the eventual exacta finishers had the three leaders in their sights, With the two Garcias, Alan and Martin, keeping the closest eye on each other, Martin sitting off Alan keeping him right where he wanted.

The historic nine furlongs at the shore was won at the finish line--the first time by the finish line, as the 25-year-old former counter man, showing wisdom beyond his years and experience, maneuvered his mount off the rail to take an attending position fourth, perfect for a champion with a big late engine.

The first five runners remained virtually in place throughout the backstretch run, the action developing only after Joe Bravo on outside Afleet Again forced the action four wide, forcing Garcia to commit on the favorite, who in turn made Calvin Borel push his Derby winner into the lead from between rivals.

But as they straightened away into the stretch, the Derby winner might have held a brief advantage until Garcia began throwing crosses at the favorite, to edged to the front, then had two, then a four length advantage leaving the furlong pole. Except for the show battle, the race was over.

Winning Haskell Team, Martin Garcia and Bob Baffert
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Winning Haskell Team, Martin Garcia and Bob Baffert
The race was an artistic triumph, for the sponsor, whose representative had his 1969 Indy 500-winning car double parked somewhere on the grounds while Mario Andretti led Lookin At Lucky into the winners’ circle, accompanied by majority owner Mike Pegram, Garcia in the tack, and Bob Baffert, the only trainer in Haskell history to win the race four times.

And so everybody won, the favorite players who cashed on the 6-5 choice, exacta players who collected $17.20 on the first two choices, the sponsor who got lots of mileage for their participation, Monmouth Park, who continues on its good karma roll with storms all around, but not a drop in Oceanport.

Saratoga might have won, too. Baffert, who indicated pre-race he’d like to run in the Travers, was a little coy post race, saying he might decide to go back to California. But nothing that happened at the Shore track yesterday would seem to preclude a “Midsummer Derby” run.

Haskell Today, Travers Tomorrow...
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Haskell Today, Travers Tomorrow...
There appeared to be more in the tank where that late-running energy came from and, providing he comes out of the race as good as he went in, the four weeks and added furlong should suit the divisional leader very nicely. A win there, barring a major surprise, would nail down a second straight championship for the bay son of Smart Strike and Private Feeling.

Good Start To The Day

The racing earlier was good, as one might expect. Borel out-Calvined his rivals to take the Majestic Light, making a mid-move passed the outclassed pacesetter with Omniscient, as Cool Coal Man raced on his flank, and had the right answer when Borel asked him. The clear disappointed was favorite Arson Squad, who hadn’t started since the Stephen Foster in June. Yesterday’s effort seemed to indicate why….

Hudson Steele made a strong late wide run beneath Jose Lezcano to win the Jersey Derby over the Euro invader with the American political tagline, Audacity of Hope. It was a workmanlike performance and a bit unexpected, too, given a class and distance rise. Perhaps taking him far back off the early pace proved the right tack. It sure achieved the desired result…

Garcia and Andretti Flanked by Mike Pegram and Baffert
Photo by: Toni Pricci
Garcia and Andretti Flanked by Mike Pegram and Baffert
Hard-hitting four year old filly sprinter Lady Alexander did what you’d come to expect, wear you down coming down the lane to out finish D’Wild Ride to take the Regret Stakes. A genuine horse for course, winning for the fifth time in seven tries with money finishes in the other two, also appreciated the drop from graded company and being reunited with Carlos Marquez, a winner aboard the filly two starts back…

To this point, however, the star of the day was a filly that had never run before, who shipped south from Saratoga for Christophe Clement who sealed the deal by reaching out for Joe Bravo. Erin Rose simply swooped to the lead rounding the turn harness style, drew out rapidly, then was geared down inside the final sixteenth, coming her final quarter-mile in :24 2/5 and stopping the timer in 1:10-flat. Stakes in her future, obviously…

The complexion of the Matchmaker changed when Cherokee Queen went to her nose three jumps away from the barrier. Without her to prompt the pace of Giant Mover, other were forced into that role, not necessarily being their best game. At the finish it was course lover Unbridled Essence to upset the classiest field she had ever encountered, holding of a pair of Chad Brown Saratoga shippers, Quiet Meadow and Tottie. Riding the winner, Paco Lopez just continues bringing his game to a higher level.