This was supposed to be the weekend when Justify would bring 60,000 people with him to Monmouth Park for the $1 million Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.
Instead, a crowd a fraction that size will show up Sunday on the Jersey Shore to see three horses that Justify beat on his way to the Triple Crown and four others that never started any of the classics.
But cheer up, bunkies. With Justify retired and headed to a big stud contract, there is at least a little value to be found in betting the Haskell.
OK, so Good Magic (6-5) is a short-priced, morning-line favorite. But he is not as short as Justify would have been. When American Pharoah brought the Triple Crown with him to the Haskell three years ago, he went off at odds of 1-10. The only reasonable question that day was how much his winning margin would be.
What’s more, Good Magic may have had a big run to finish second to Justify in the Kentucky Derby. But he does not look unbeatable Sunday. Bravazo (3-1), after all, ran past him to finish second in the Preakness, coming up a half-length short of catching Justify.
“Not every horse made it through the whole Triple Crown unscathed,” Justify’s trainer D. Wayne Lukas said. “He made all three races. He’s a very tough, nice horse. He’s actually getting better with maturity, and I expect a very good effort from him.”
Last seen – or not seen considering the fog – dueling Justify eyeball to eyeball early in the Preakness, Good Magic has been rested since he finished fourth that day.
“He definitely had those two tough races back to back,” Good Magic’s trainer Chad Brown said. “He needed that (time off) to recharge his batteries. We had the Haskell in mind for him right after the Preakness. Running off a layoff doesn’t bother him.”
But it does not necessarily mean Good Magic, ridden again by José Ortiz, will be at his best over Sunday’s nine furlongs. After he won the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile in November, he had four months off before coming back to finish a distant third in the Fountain of Youth, albeit on what looked like a speed-favoring track that day. He bounced back to win the Blue Grass a month before the Derby. That was his last time in the winner’s circle.
The layoff question also faces Bravazo. His only other real break in an 11-race résumé came after he finished a never-in-it 10th in last fall’s Kentucky Jockey Club. After a seven-week spell, he won an optional-claiming race before a nose victory in February in the Risen Star. That was Bravazo’s last victory, and it did not come with his current jockey Luís Sáez.
“We saw early on that he was one of those tough, durable horses who might make all the races we wanted to make,” Lukas said. “He gets himself into races to where he can be a threat every time. I think we’re going to see the best of him this fall.”
The rest of the field appears to be outclassed.
Breaking from the rail, Lone Sailor (5-1) has only his maiden victory to show for 11 starts that included an eighth-place finish in the Derby and fifth in the Preakness. He had his typical strong close last month in the Ohio Derby, only to be nosed out at the wire by first-time graded-stakes winner Core Beliefs (4-1).
If the Haskell lives up to its reputation as a race for front-runners – and it did not when Girvin and McCraken closed to finish one-two last year – then Roaming Union (10-1) could be the one to watch. Trained by Kelly Breen, he has only one win in 11 races, but at odds of 14-1 he did finish second at Monmouth in last month’s $102,000 Pegasus Stakes. Navy Commander (12-1), a gelding trained by Butch Reid, is another graded-stakes debutant that is a candidate to be on the early lead. He wired the field to win the $100,000 Long Branch four weeks ago at Monmouth.
Local colt Golden Brown (15-1) comes back only 15 days after winning the Grade 3 Kent Stakes on the turf at Delaware Park. His only two wins on dirt came in sprints, including a $51,000 allowance race against New Jersey-breds in May at Monmouth.
If the race is setting up to be a duel between Good Magic and Bravazo, it figures that they will have to emerge either on the far turn or in the stretch.
“There will be a good pace in this race,” Brown said. “I don’t want to be on the lead and on the rail, and this horse won’t be. Hopefully he breaks cleanly and gets into a good, forward position and then goes on from there.”
The scheduled post time for the Haskell is 5:45 p.m. EDT Sunday. A partly cloudy, 82-degree day is forecast.
Justify's retirement leads to reflection on a short career
Racing notes and opinions
There were not enough 3-year-olds to fill two good races this weekend. Every year the Haskell is run the day after the $600,000 Grade 2 Jim Dandy, which has a field of only five for the nine-furlong race Saturday at Saratoga. Vino Rosso (1-1), forced wide by Justify’s stable mate Restoring Hope on his way to finishing fourth in the Belmont Stakes, seeks his first victory for trainer Todd Pletcher since the Wood Memorial. Tenfold (8-5), the late-blooming colt trained by Steve Asmussen, finished a close third in the Preakness before a troubled fifth-place run in the Belmont Stakes. Front-running Sporting Chance (8-1) gets blinkers and is worth more than a passing glance after he won around one turn at Saratoga in last fall’s Hopeful. The traditional tune-up for next month’s Travers Stakes, the Jim Dandy is Saturday at 6:18 p.m. EDT.
Poet’s Word (9-4) and reigning European champion Cracksman (11-4) will have their rematch, but Crystal Ocean (5-2) could crash the party Saturday in the Group 1 King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes on what may be a warm, showery day at Ascot, England. Poet’s Word beat Cracksman last month in the Prince of Wales’s on firm ground at Royal Ascot. Trainer John Gosden has said that if the conditions are same Saturday, then Cracksman would probably be scratched. Like Poet’s Word, Crystal Ocean is trained by Sir Michael Stoute and has won his last two races at odds-on, including last month’s Group 2 Hardwicke at Royal Ascot. The Coolmore filly Hydrangea (16-1) comes back after a nervous eighth as the favorite in the Duke of Cambridge and is a worthy, long-shot play here. The King George starts at 10:40 a.m. EDT Saturday.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery to Triple Crown-winning jockey Víctor Espinoza. He fell to the track at Del Mar last Sunday when Bobby Abu Dhabi broke down and died from a heart attack during a training run. Espinoza suffered a broken bone in his neck. He is expected to make a full comeback, but not before the end of the summer meet at Del Mar.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com and from major races. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Maggie Ball, host and handicapper from XBTV, previews the major stakes races this weekend at Monmouth, Saratoga and Del Mar. Phil D’Amato, two-time reigning champion owner at Del Mar, is also one of this week’s guests.