Consider Saturday’s Grade 1 Haskell Stakes the East Coast chapter of the Bob Baffert Wagering Society. He sends his colts east from his California barn to Monmouth Park and bettors wager on them accordingly, faithfully, and automatically. Just like they do whenever Baffert runs them at his Santa Anita Park or Del Mar bases.
And faithfully and automatically, Monmouth Park Haskell bettors are rewarded. Baffert has saddled 15 horses in Monmouth Park’s flagship race. Nine of them won. Four more finished second. The two others wound up third.
Translation: Baffert is 9-for-15 finding the winner’s circle. And bettors are 15-for-15 cashing tickets on one of the Hall of Famer’s charges. The streak started in 2001 with Point Given winning Baffert his first Haskell. It ended (for now) in 2020 with Authentic winning him his ninth. Along the way, Baffert’s Haskell colts racked up $7.3 million in earnings.
Along with next month’s Grade 1 Travers Stakes at Saratoga, the 1 1/8-mile Haskell is one of two major summer races for 3-year-olds. It’s often the first race for many of the Triple Crown runners coming out of the spring. Win the Haskell – especially if you distinguished yourself during the Triple Crown season – and you could wind up with an Eclipse Award come next January as Champion 3-Year-Old Male.
That’s happened 11 times since Wajima debuted with those honors in 1975. Among those were Baffert’s Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002), Lookin’ at Lucky (2010), Triple Crown winner American Pharoah (2015) and Authentic (2020). Point Given, American Pharoah and Authentic were all Horses of the Year.
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Baffert Returns from Suspension
This is Baffert’s first Grade 1 sophomore race since he emerged from his 90-day suspension from the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission earlier this month. So, who is Baffert sending east in search of Haskell No. 10?
That would be Taiba. You remember Taiba from his shocking Santa Anita Derby victory in only his second career start. Both of those first two races came with triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures (103 and 102). That meant the Kentucky Derby was his third career start. But Taiba endured a rough trip as the 5.80-1 second choice. He got into the fringes of that lethal early pace and faded to 12th.
Since then, under the watchful eye of fill-in trainer Tim Yakteen, a former Baffert assistant who took over Taiba during Baffert’s suspension, Taiba has impressed on the workout front. He turned in a 59.40-second five-furlong workout that was second of 56 at that distance Saturday. Before then, he clocked three bullet workouts: the fastest of any horse at that distance that day.
Along with that, Taiba is a Triple Crown race veteran. That helps in the Haskell, considering 13 of the last 15 Haskell winners came out of one of the Triple Crown races. He’s also the son of 2017 Horse of the Year Gun Runner, who won the 1 1/4-mile Breeders’ Cup Classic. In the Haskell – like the 12-furlong Belmont Stakes – who’s your daddy matters here.
Colts from stamina-rich pedigrees prosper here. Handicapper J. Keeler Johnson noted that seven of the last 12 Haskell winners were sired by a Triple Crown-running stallion. That includes Taiba, since Gun Runner finished third in the 2016 Kentucky Derby.
Taiba also checks another box: being a stakes winner. All but one of the last 43 Haskell winners won a stakes race prior to entering the Monmouth Park gate. The ‘one’ was Baffert’s Paynter, who won the 2012 Haskell after finishing second to Union Rags in that year’s Belmont Stakes.
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Jack Christopher Could Pull Off Upset
Bucking all those trends is the likely favorite: Jack Christopher. Expect him to take plenty of the money not thrown Taiba’s way for a couple of reasons. First, he’s out of New York-based Chad Brown’s red-hot barn. Brown is still basking in the glow of setting a Belmont Park Spring/Summer Meet record for training victories. He went to Saratoga as the defending training champion there, looking for his fourth Spa training title in five years.
The second reason is Jack Christopher is undefeated and barely tested. He comes into the Haskell 4-for-4, including a 10-length destruction of the Grade 1 Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes Day that came with a 107 Beyer: the best in this field. Like Taiba, he owns a Grade 1 title: The Champagne Stakes last fall at Belmont Park.
Jack Christopher, however, doesn’t fit the profile of a typical Haskell winner. He has never run two turns; his Champagne victory over a one-turn mile at Belmont Park being his own route race. He’s never gone beyond a mile.
He missed the Triple Crown season because of an injury last fall that knocked him out of the Breeders’ Cup Classic the week of the race. And he’s the son of Munnings, one of the best sires – if you’re a chip-off-the-ol’-block sprinter like he was. Munnings finished third in the 2009 Haskell behind filly Rachel Alexandra, who won the Preakness that year. Not surprising, for a horse who never won a race longer than seven furlongs.
Jack Christopher has plenty of front-running speed. The question remains: can he – unlike his sire –sustain it over nine furlongs?
Two other Grade 1 Triple Crown alums are in the field: Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife and Florida Derby winner White Abarrio. Both faltered in the Derby: White Abarrio was 16th and Cyberknife 18th. But both rebounded with solid efforts in their next start. Cyberknife won the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs by a head bob and White Abarrio finished second by a length to Tawny Port in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby.
This will give both of those colts and their connections a litmus test as to where they are vis-à-vis top-end Grade 1 company.
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