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The Conscience of Thoroughbred Racing


HALLANDALE BEACH, FL, July 20-21 – Racing’s glamour division is back in play this weekend and that means back to the drawing board for handicappers, turf writers and , of course, the horses.

Will the divisional leading three-year-old stand up and be counted?

Many are called, and by the time this weekend’s Curlin and next Saturday’s Jim Dandy has been run, all will have a good idea of what will be at stake in the Derby of Midsummer on August 26.

But this weekend, along with the opening of Del Mar, belongs to Monmouth Park who should be proud of bringing many potential champions together to settle matters between the fences in their centerpiece event, the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.

And that group includes no less than Kentucky Derby-winning Mage, last seen finishing third in Preakness Stakes on the third weekend in May.

This field is so loaded that Mike Smith will forsake his business in Oceanside, and Saratoga will have to make do without Irad Ortiz, Flavien Prat, Joel Rosario, Javier Castellano, Luis Saez, Tyler Gaffalione and Johnny Velazquez.

How’s that for star power?

Friday’s Curlin still manages to avoid grading and remains a listed stakes. Perhaps that will change if Blazing Sevens or Scotland race well enough for a return to prime time at 10 furlongs on the last Saturday in August.

Joining Mage in the eight-horse cast are Richard Mandella’s highly regarded Geaux Rocket Ride, Steve Asmussen’s exciting talent Extra Anejo, one of the Derby Futures favorites until he was declared from the event, along with household names Tapit Trice and Arabian Knight.

You didn’t think that race would go without support from Todd Pletcher and the winningest trainer in Haskell history, Bob Baffert, did you? Yes, Max, you had better have those hot dogs ready early Saturday afternoon.

The Skinny: Promise is promise and performance is performance. A bird in the hand … is another way to put it. The big three obviously are Mage, Tapit Trice and Arabian Knight.

The Baffert runner has run fast, is undefeated with two blowout wins. We don’t mind the layup—it is Baffert after all. But we find the two-month workout gap for Arabian Knight a concern—but it is Baffert after all, the king of the latter day Haskell.

Mage’s best race was at 10 furlongs. Now when the dust settles after the mile and-one-quarter Travers, in all likelihood the division will have a leader heading into the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

While the configuration and Haskell bias favors him, our best guess is more prep than final goal. Of course everyone wants to win a million-dollar race. But the Haskell is a championship contributor, not necessarily a divisional champion definer.

The lean is Tapit Trice who despite his well known aversion to timely breaks from the gate and easy trips thereafter, he has won on tighter tracks and those of similar configuration. The turnback to a winning trip doesn’t hurt.

Day 6 Notes: In Thursday’s fifth race, Crazy Mason responded most favorably with experience and addition of blinkers, exploded when tipped out and roared home, winning like a repeater; note … Kodiak Wintergreen also improved dramatically, making up four to five lengths leaving the furlong grounds to prove clearly best in turf sprint. First-timer Lamorna had a troubled start is the sixth, trailing the penultimate runner four or five lengths shortly thereafter, angled out with bold move 8-wide entering straight and finished gamely through the stretch while remaining  wide…

How the stewards did not disqualify third finisher Parade Ring, who bore in severely under a right handed crop and badly sloughed a green but forward moving Neon Beach, apparently is way above my level of understanding. The latter did come out slightly leaving headstretch to make incidental contact — to no critical avail — in upper stretch. Can’t see anyone making a good argument that the action of the third finisher did not cost the fifth finisher—and superfecta bettors—fourth money. Bad job.

Trip Notes for Friday’s co-featured Curlin Stakes, listed in post order with early line odds:

PERFORMER (8-1) restrained with run inside 2-3 wide backstretch, asked for speed inside at turn, angled out for 4-wide into stretch, outrun by better stock.

LOST ARK (4-1) restrained speed perfect-tripping behind lively pace, asked and moved 4-wide midturn, 5-entering, ridden out late winning on class.

BLAZING SEVENS (4-5) cruised up 3-wide through first turn, stalked the speed 3-4 wide all the way, altered course inside to engage leader deep stretch, out-gamed at wire.

SCOTLAND (2-1) outrun entering far turn after remaining inside throughout backstretch, asked approaching headstretch angling into 5-path entering lane, driven out while reeling in rivals midstretch.

IL MIRACOLO (12-1) had restrained speed saving ground throughout, good move when asked inside on turn without threatening, driven out 4-wide stretch, effort better than looks on paper.

The Skinny: With the track expected to be wet, we would rather try beating one Chad favorite rather than guess what happens on turf among the five Brown trainees in wide open graded Lake George. With local boy Chad clearly pointing for a first Travers win, looking for an upset with Scotland who has to prove he belongs. Would need early line odds at minimum.

this live column will be updated, including, among other topics, trip notes for the Spa’s Curlin on Friday

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