Using History to Handicap the 2019 TVG.com Haskell Invitational
Courtesy of J. Keeler Johnson of the America's Best Racing
The 2019 Triple Crown was entertaining and exciting, but despite producing plenty of memorable moments, it failed to produce a clear-cut leader of the 3-year-old division.
This means that the $1 million, Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes on Saturday, July 20 at Monmouth Park could take on special significance. The prestigious 1 1/8-mile race figures to play a key role in sorting out the division and establishing the true leader of this wide-open 3-year-old crop. It’s also a “Win and You’re In” Challenge Series Presented by America's Best Racing qualifier for the Breeders’ Cup Classic. You can watch the action on NBC starting at 5 p.m. ET, with the Haskell post time set for approximately 5:45 p.m.
To aid in handicapping this much-anticipated race, let’s look back through history to uncover trends and tendencies uniting previous winners of the Haskell. If we can find a handful of common threads, we’ll be that much closer to identifying the winner of the 2019 Haskell Invitational.
Bet on Speed (But Watch How the Track is Playing)
Speed is an asset in the Haskell Invitational, just like in the majority of North American dirt races. While we’ve only seen one gate-to-wire winner in the last ten years, six additional winners employed pace-pressing or pace-stalking tactics.
But under the right circumstances, late runners can be successful. Three Haskell winners managed to rally from dead last to prevail, suggesting that while it never hurts to favor speed horses, talented closers aren’t completely out of the mix at Monmouth Park. It pays to watch the earlier races on Haskell Day to see how the track is playing – a crisp, fast track can favor speed horses racing on the rail (as was the case in 2014), while a dull surface producing slow times can present a dead rail favoring late runners, which was evident in 2017.
Bob Baffert’s Haskell Record is Phenomenal
The Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won the Haskell Invitational on eight occasions, a record number. Even when his runners don’t win, they’re typically involved at the finish. Since 2000, Baffert has saddled 11 horses in the Haskell, and they have finished – brace yourself – second, first, first, first, first, first, first, second, first, first, and second. That’s extraordinary, if you ask me.
But even Bob Baffert needs a top-class horse to succeed in the Haskell. Six of his eight winners had previously competed in a Triple Crown race, while two of his three runners-up did not. Which brings us to our next point:
Triple Crown Veterans Hold an Advantage
It pays to favor runners who competed in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and/or Belmont Stakes, the three legs of the Triple Crown. No less than 12 of the last 13 Haskell winners (and 17 of the last 20) had previously contested at least one leg of the Triple Crown. The Preakness has been a particularly strong indicator of future Haskell success, with seven of the last 11 Haskell winners competing in the second jewel of the Triple Crown.
Bet Favorites and Short-Priced Contenders
Over the last ten years, six favorites have prevailed in the Haskell Invitational, while three more Haskell winners started as the second wagering choice with odds ranging from 2.60-1 to 4.70-1. The only genuine longshot to win the Haskell during this timeframe was Girvin, who sprung a 9.20-1 upset in 2017.
Longshots haven’t fared much better for second and third place either. Of the 30 horses to finish in the Haskell trifecta over the last decade, just four started at double-digit odds.
Favor the Stamina-Oriented Progeny of Triple Crown Veterans
Pedigree counts when it comes to winning the Haskell. Eight of the last 10 Haskell winners were sired by a stallion who competed in a Triple Crown race. Furthermore, the two stallions who defied this trend (Smart Strike and Awesome Again) were Grade 1 winners running 1 1/16 miles or farther. The takeaway? Don’t bet sons of sprinters in the Haskell – it’s better to favor classic stamina.
Sometimes, it seems like handicapping the Haskell Invitational can begin and end with the question “Who’s Bob Baffert running this year?” And following a three-year drought without a Haskell starter, Baffert will be back in the thick of things this year with Mucho Gusto, recent winner of the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita Park.
But unlike the majority of Baffert’s Haskell winners, Mucho Gusto did not compete in the Triple Crown, suggesting he might not be an unstoppable force along the lines of American Pharoah or Lookin at Lucky.
Speaking of Triple Crown veterans, there will be a few to choose from in the Haskell. Maximum Security, famously disqualified from victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve, will lead the charge. He’ll be joined in all likelihood by the Preakness Stakes runner-up Everfast and Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Betsthird-place runner Joevia.
But early speed is also an asset, so history suggests we should lean against Everfast, a tried-and-true deep closer. Short-priced contenders are also preferable, which would leave Joevia on the outside looking in. Even Maximum Security doesn’t fit the profile of a typical Haskell winner since his sire, New Year’s Day, did not compete in the Triple Crown, though in the scheme of things this is a pretty minor knock.
So from a historical perspective, we’re left with Mucho Gusto and Maximum Security as the most likely winners of the Haskell Invitational, though neither is a perfect match of the profile.
You might be asking, what about King for a Day? This up-and-coming colt defeated Maximum Security in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth last month and will be among the favorites in the Haskell. Since he and his sire both skipped the Triple Crown series, King for a Day doesn’t quite fit the profile of a typical Haskell winner, but if you’re willing to forgive these shortcomings, he’s another logical (and short-priced) contender to finish on the board with Mucho Gusto and Maximum Security.
Good luck, and enjoy the race!
For more coverage of the Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series, head over to americasbestracing.net
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