Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: 2019 Haskell Invitational primer

America's Best Racing
Peter King on NBC Sports

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series heads to New Jersey for the 2019 Haskell Invitational. As the marquee event on Saturday’s card at Monmouth Park, the race’s winner gets an automatic entry into the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The action kicks off on NBC on Saturday, July 20 at 5 p.m. ET with a post time of approximately 5:45 p.m.

Most notably, Maximum Security, the first horse to cross the wire in the Kentucky Derby who was later disqualified for impeding the forward motion of several horses behind him, will seek redemption after a disappointing run back in June at Monmouth. He will face Triple Crown runners Joevia (Belmont) and Everfast (Preakness and Belmont) in the Haskell.

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1. King for a Day (5-2)

Jockey: John Velazquez

Trainer: Todd Pletcher

Owner: Red Oak Stable

Career record: 5 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $210,550

Earnings per start: $42,110

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This patiently-managed, well-bred colt is a leading win contender in the Haskell based on his perfect 2-for-2 record so far this year as a 3-year-old and, more importantly, his one-length win over Maximum Security in the June 16 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes. In that 1 1/16-mile race at Monmouth, King for a Day kept the pressure on Maximum Security throughout and outfinished his opponent in the final sixteenth of a mile. He’s lightly raced, winning one of three starts as a juvenile in 2018 and returning with an impressive 2 ½-length score in the May 18 Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico. And, he’s trained by multiple Eclipse Award winner Todd Pletcher, who has won the Haskell three previous times – with Bluegrass Cat in 2006, Any Given Saturday in 2007, and Verrazano in 2013. Look for Hall of Fame jockey John Velazquez to position King for a Day just off the early pacesetters and have him primed to strike at the top of the stretch. Velazquez’s two Haskell wins came aboard Bluegrass Cat and Verrazano for Pletcher. King for a Day is a half-brother (same dam [mother], different sire [father]) to the dam of Mind Control, a Grade 1 winner as a juvenile and a leading 3-year-old sprinter this year.

2. Joevia (10-1)

Jockey: Jose Lezcano

Trainer: Gregory Sacco

Owners: Michael Fazio and Jeff Fazio

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $281,600

Earnings per start: $46,933

Running style: Pacesetter/press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This locally-based horse outran his 21.60-1 odds in the June 8 Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, finishing third after setting a contested pace. He held on well until deep stretch at “Big Sandy” in his first race under jockey Jose Lezcano, who retains the mount in the Haskell. Prior to that, he scored by 2 ¾ lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park in May, defeating three horses on a sloppy track. He’s posted two consecutive triple-digit Equibase Speed Figures, has trained well at Monmouth since the Belmont Stakes, and could very well be a late-developing type with a legitimate upset chance in Saturday’s $1 million race. Lezcano will have to reserve some of Joevia’s early speed to capitalize on that chance, however, as the early pace figures to be heavily contested among Maximum Security, Mucho Gusto, Bethlehem Road, and possibly King for a Day.

3. Spun to Run (15-1)

Jockey: Paco Lopez

Trainer: Juan Guerrero

Owner: Robert Donaldson

Career record: 6 starts – 2 wins – 1 second – 2 thirds

Career earnings: $82,620

Earnings per start: $13,770

Running style: Press the pace/stalker

Notable achievements and interesting facts: This colt has only finished out of the money once in six career starts – his debut last fall – but will be facing a major class hike in Saturday’s Haskell. Spun to Run enters off of his first two career wins, both coming at Parx Racing by a combined margin of 10 ½ lengths earlier this year. In those starts – both route races – he took over early and was never threatened as the odds-on favorite. He also raced competitively at Aqueduct last winter, nearly defeating subsequent Gotham Stakes winner Haikal in a six-furlong race. On the negative side, he’ll be racing Saturday after a nearly four-month break, and he will find it harder to stalk the pace of Maximum Security and Joevia with Mucho Gusto and King for a Day hovering nearby through the backstretch. He’ll be one of the longest shots in a compact Haskell field, if not the longest, and filling out the superfecta would appear to be his ceiling if he can hang on long enough. Picking up Monmouth-based jockey Paco Lopez is a plus, however. Lopez ranks second in earnings and third in wins during the current Monmouth meet through July 15 and was second in both categories in 2018.

4. Bethlehem Road (20-1)

Jockey: Luis Rodriguez Castro

Trainer: Dee Curry

Owners: Don Ameche III, Griffin Investments, and Randall Reed

Career record: 4 starts – 3 wins – 0 seconds – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $124,300

Earnings per start: $31,075

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: After posting three consecutive front-running, open-length wins to begin his career at Parx Racing, including a stakes victory, Bethlehem Road moved up in class and shipped to Thistledown in Cleveland to start in the Ohio Derby on June 22. In that race, he was bumped twice, at the start and on the first turn, but recovered to stalk the pace before tiring badly in early stretch, finishing fourth of six behind OwendaleMath Wizard, and Long Range Toddy. This gelding should be part of the early pace in the Haskell, but he’s facing a tall task going up against Maximum Security, Mucho Gusto, King for a Day, and Joevia, as each of those horses also has speed plus a sizeable class advantage.

5. Mucho Gusto (2-1)

Jockey: Joe Talamo

Trainer: Bob Baffert

Owner: Michael Lund Petersen

Career record: 7 starts – 5 wins – 1 second – 1 third

Career earnings: $430,800

Earnings per start: $61,543

Running style: Press the pace

Notable achievements and interesting facts: During the run-up to the Triple Crown races earlier this year, Mucho Gusto was a second-stringer in Bob Baffert’s loaded barn behind Game WinnerRoadster, and Improbable, despite winning a graded stakes as a juvenile and then another one in February. Now, he sits alongside the recently resurgent Game Winner in Baffert’s first string, and is a leading win candidate in Saturday’s Haskell based on his late spring-early summer form. He heads to the Jersey Shore on a two-race winning streak, taking the Lazaro Barrera Stakes at Santa Anita Park on May 18 and then defeating Roadster by 2 ¼ lengths in the 1 1/16-mile Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita on June 16. Although he did fade to third in his only prior start at 1 1/8 miles – the Sunland Derby back in March – this colt is bred to easily handle the Haskell’s distance and has a good pace-pressing running style that should set him up perfectly behind what figures to be some honest early fractions set by Maximum Security and company. And last but certainly not least, he’s trained by the all-time leading Haskell winner in Bob Baffert, who has eight career victories: Point Given (2001); War Emblem (2002); Roman Ruler (2005); Lookin At Lucky (2010); Coil (2011); Paynter (2012); Bayern (2014); and American Pharoah (2015). Baffert has also finished second in the Haskell four times and third once.

6. Everfast (10-1)

Jockey: Julien Leparoux

Trainer: Dale Romans

Owner: Calumet Farm

Career record: 12 starts – 1 win – 2 seconds – 1 third

Career earnings: $499,805

Earnings per start: $41,650

Running style: Closer

Notable achievements and interesting facts: Twice during the Triple Crown season, this deep closer has beefed up the exotic payouts in graded stakes by grinding on late in the stretch to finish second. He triggered a $1,101.70 exacta in Grade 2 Fasig-Tipton Holy Bull Stakes back in January by nabbing second behind fellow longshot Harvey Wallbanger, and surprised many public handicappers and bettors alike by edging Owendale for runner-up honors behind War of Will in the Preakness Stakes. In his four other graded stakes this year, Everfast has finished no better than fifth, and that includes a seventh-place effort in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets, his most recent race. Supporters of this colt – who has not won a race since his career debut at Ellis Park last summer – will point out that he was only beaten by three lengths in the Belmont and he did earn a 100 Equibase Speed Figure in that 1 ½-mile classic. Furthermore, there should be a fast enough pace in Saturday’s Haskell to set up his late run as he’s really the only true closer in the field. He’s worthy of consideration in exactas and trifectas with the hopes of boosting those payouts, just as he’s done before, but his chances of reaching the Haskell winner’s circle are remote. Trainer Dale Romans finished second behind American Pharoah in the 2015 Haskell with Keen Ice, one race before that colt upset the Triple Crown winner and eventual Horse of the Year in the Travers Stakes, and he nearly won the Haskell in 2011 with Preakness winner Shackleford, who lost to Coil by a neck. Last year’s Haskell runner-up Bravazo was owned by Brad Kelley’s Calumet Farm.

7. Maximum Security (8-5)

Jockey: Luis Saez

Trainer: Jason Servis

Owners: Gary and Mary West

Career record: 6 starts – 4 wins – 1 second – 0 thirds

Career earnings: $679,400

Earnings per start: $113,233

Running style: Pacesetter

Notable achievements and interesting facts: A second shot at redemption is on hand for this ultra-fast, talented colt who was at the center of a national controversy after he was disqualified from first and placed 17th in the May 4 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve. Maximum Security’s first chance to move past the Derby DQ hangover came in the June 16 TVG.com Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth, where he was sent off as the overwhelming 1-20 favorite against what looked like a mediocre field. But he stumbled out of the gate in that race and thereafter received constant pressure by an improving horse in King for a Day, who wore him down late in the stretch to win by a length. That was the first time in Maximum Security’s career in which he did not cross the finish line first, and just how well he’ll respond in the Haskell is easily the most anticipated question surrounding Saturday’s race. In the Derby and in his prior wins, Maximum Security showed that he does not necessarily need a clear early lead to win, but he certainly prefers to be forwardly placed. In addition to King for a Day, the Haskell field includes speed horses Joevia and Bethlehem Road as well as California invader Mucho Gusto, who also likes to set or press the pace. The expected company up front should make it tougher for Maximum Security to do what he does best, especially breaking from the outside post, but he’s still the fastest horse in the Haskell field and figures to stay in contention all the way to the finish line. Luis Saez finished second in last year’s Haskell aboard Bravazo. Gary and Mary West campaigned 2016 Haskell runner-up American Freedom and 2014 runner-up Power Broker, and Jason Servis trained third-place finisher Sunny Ridge in 2016.

 

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Haskell Invitational from Monmouth Park on Saturday, July 20. Coverage runs from 5-6 p.m. ET and post time is scheduled for 5:47 p.m.

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