Today's Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park should give provide us a least a couple of answers with respect to this year's crop of three-year-old colts. Hopefully. During California Chrome's Triple Crown run this past sprint it was clear that the Derby and the Preakness winner was the best of his rivals, regardless of his failures at the Belmont. But during that time there was also the feeling of many that this year's best three-year-old filly, Untapable, was on par with her male counterparts. We'll get to test that theory today on the Jersey Shore.
|1||Encryption||P. Lopez||K. Breen||20/1|
|2||Bayern||M. Garcia||B. Baffert||5/2|
|3||Albano||K. Clark||J. Jones||6/1|
|4||Irish You Well||J. Lezcano||W. Catalano||12/1|
|5||Just Call Kenny||J. Bravo||P. McBurney||10/1|
|6||Social Inclusion||E. Prado||M. Azpurua||8/1|
|7||Untapable||R. Napravnik||S. Asmussen||2/1|
|8||Wildcat Red||L. Saez||J. Garoffolo||10/1|
|9||Medal Count||R. Albarado||D. Romans||8/1|
The Kentucky Oaks winner leads a field of nine three year olds in today's nine furlong Haskell (post time: 5:44 pm Eastern; TV: NBC) as the 2/1 morning line favorite. Untapable has lost just twice in her early but brilliant career - a third place finish in the Hollywood Starlet (her only race on synthetics in eight starts), and a ridiculously trouble-filled 8th at the Breeders' Cup last fall. Other than those two blemishes, Untapable has been simply perfect including wins in her last four races by a combined 31 lengths.
Lining up to challenge Untapable is a pretty good field of three-year-old colts, led by G2-Woody Stephens winner Bayern (5/2) and Florida Derby runner-up Wildcat Red (10/1). Social Inclusion (8/1), third in both the Wood Memorial and the Preakness, also joins the field as he takes a shot at winning a graded stakes race for the firsts time. And while the Haskell field doesn't contain Derby winner California Chrome, or the talented but lightly-raced Shared Belief, there's enough talent in this field to probably get a decent gauge as to the depth of this three-year-old colts class, and some idea as to how good of a filly Untapable really is after dominating fillies all season long.
Sort of sitting in the background of today's Haskell, at least with respect to this year's three year old crop, are the results from yesterday's G2-Jim Dandy at Saratoga. Wicked Strong's two-and-a-quarter length victory over Belmont winner Tonalist was a nice victory for Wicked Strong, and much deserved after a strong spring that saw him win the Wood and finish fourth in the Derby.
Tonalist, on the other hand, faltered from his top-level efforts in the G2-Peter Pan and the Belmont in a race where he sat much farther behind the leaders than in his previous starts. We'll see what the connections decide to do in the Travers but, if it were me on the back of Tonalist in his next start, I'd be eager to get this colt up front with the leaders in the early stages.
Ultimately, I don't know if the Jim Dandy told us much about the state of the three-year-old colt division that we didn't already know. Wicked Strong and Tonalist continued a run of good results, while the rest of the field will probably end up in the lower stakes ranks by the end of the season. In particular, Commanding Curve, while he impressively gobbled up ground late to finish second in the Derby, doesn't look like a legit Grade 1/2 colt right now against horses of his own age. When it's time to step up to face older later on this fall, I think a lot of these runners will find the non-graded or allowance ranks more to their liking.
So with the three year old division still in "status quo" stage, today's Haskell is an opportunity for somebody, anybody, to take a big leap forward. A big effort by Untapable sets the stage for an interesting fall although, to be honest, if Untapable were to win the Haskell I don't know that I'd be looking to load her up with race after race against the boys this summer and fall, assuming the connections would look to take a shot at the Breeders' Cup Classic this fall. If there's one thing Zenyatta taught us it's that a filly/mare doesn't need to run hard races against the colts every time out in order to be prepared to take them on in the Classic. A filly just needs to be really good.
Anyway, looking at today's Haskell, on paper it certainly appears to be a race ripe for the taking for Untapable but she's certainly not going to get this thing handed to her. With Social Inclusion to her inside, and Wildcat Red to her immediate outside, Untapable will be sandwiched between two colts with plenty of speed in which to put pressure on the filly throughout the early stages. Untapable's been able to relax and sit a length or two off the speed in her prior wins and she'll certainly have to employ that style in the Haskell if she's going to win.
As impressive as Bayern was in the Woody Stephens on Belmont day, I don't really know what to make of him in his return to a two-turn trip. I have no problem drawing a line through his Preakness flop given the horrible trip, but he was so good at 7f in his last start that I'm wondering if he's capable of putting up a similar performance at nine furlongs. He starting to look like a classic miler to me; I'm leery of low odds on a colt that probably isn't running at his best distance.
I don't think this race is going to fall apart but if it does, I'm looking straight at Medal Count (8/1) to clean up the mess. Third in the Belmont in his last start, Medal Count isn't a great dirt horse by any stretch of the imagination (he's much, much better on the synthetics), and he's never going to "wow" you with a big turn of foot, but he's a grinder and that may be beneficial if the leaders are spitting the bit in the final furlong of the Haskell. Given the low odds on Untapable, the questions I have with Bayern, the probably pace complications for both Social Inclusion and Wildcat Red... sure, what the hell, let's go with Medal Count.
Or maybe a 20/1 bomb will win and we can all go rip up some tickets.