They say Haskell Day is the key to a successful summer at Monmouth Park. And track officials in Oceanport will soon learn if they’ve landed the most important piece of all in putting the field together for the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Stakes on July 22.
Kentucky Derby winner Mage will work out later this week, likely Thursday, at The Thoroughbred Center in Lexington, Kentucky. And if all goes well, trainer Gustavo Delgado, reportedly targeting the Haskell, could ship the colt to the Jersey Shore, giving the 56th renewal of the Grade 1 fixture added levels of both prestige and intrigue.
“It’s always nice if you can get a Kentucky Derby winner,” said John Heims, Monmouth Park’s racing secretary and director of racing. “And the Derby is part of the 3-year-old gauntlet and we’re the next step after the Triple Crown. And when you haul in a Triple Crown race winner - I’ll give deference to the Derby, obviously - it changes things. It really does.”
Mage has had three workouts since finishing third in the Preakness on May 20.
“I spoke with them (Saturday) – hopefully it all comes together,” Heims said.
Who else is coming?
As of Thursday, one of the keys is who isn't coming. Per a social media post from the Dave Grening of the Daily Racing Form, Forte, the Kentucky Derby favorite who scratched due to a sore foot the morning of the race, will not come to the Haskell for a possible showdown with Mage. Instead, Forte will head to Saratoga for the Grade 2 Jim Dandy on July 28, while Grade 1 winner Tapit Trice is still under consideration for the Haskell.
There are five firm commitments so far according to Heims, including: Arabian Knight, the lightly raced Bob Baffert trainee; Salute the Stars, as trainer Brad Cox goes for a third straight Haskell win; Howgreatisnate, winner of the Long Branch Stakes on opening day; Geaux Rocket Ride, with California conditioner Richard Mandella to ship the Affirmed Stakes winner; and Extra Anejo, coming off an impressive allowance win at Ellis Park for trainer Steve Asmussen.
In addition, Heims remains Belmont Stakes winner Archangelo - the latter trained by Jena Antonucci, who became the first female conditioner to win a Triple Crown race.
“Forte is still in the picture with a chance. And the Belmont winner, I texted (Antonucci) the other day and there was no commitment yet,” Heims said.
Cox is also mulling whether to send Arkansas Derby winner Angel of Empire, third in the Kentucky Derby and fourth in the Belmont.
“For us, it has always been us or the Jim Dandy (July 29 at Saratoga). Who is going to which race," Heims said.
”Right now we’re sitting on seven (starters), with the potential for more.”
What other Kentucky Derby winners have run in the Haskell?
If Mage does run, it will be the seventh time a Kentucky Derby champion has run in the Haskell. Here’s a look at the first five:
Spend a Buck (1985) - Picked up a $2 million bonus for winning the Kentucky Derby, along with the Cherry Hill Mile, Garden Stakes Stakes and Jersey Derby at Garden State Park. But Skip Trial pulled off a stunning upset on Haskell Day.
Alysheba (1997) - Won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but lost to Bet Twice, second in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, in the Belmont. In the Haskell, it was Bet Twice winning an epic stretch battle with Alysheba and Lost Code.
War Emblem (2002) – Won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before finishing eighth in the Belmont. In the Haskell, the Baffert trainee went wire-to-wire and was never challenged in what would be the final win of his career.
Big Brown (2008) – Won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness before failing to finish the Belmont due in part to a cracked hoof. Came back to win the Haskell, and won the inaugural Monmouth Stakes five weeks later before being retired.
American Pharoah (2015) – It was like a coronation for the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, winning impressively for trainer Bob Baffert as a record crowd of 60,893 showed up to get a glimpse of racing history.
Nyquist (2016) – Like Mage, Nyquist, trained by Doug O’Neill, finished third in the Preakness after winning the Derby. Nyquist ran fourth in the Haskell behind Preakness winner Exaggerator, with both races run in the slop.
Note: Mandaloun, the 2021 Haskell winner, was not was not named the Kentucky Derby winner until early 2022 due to Medina Spirit’s positive drug test; Authentic won the 2020 Haskell before winning the Kentucky Derby when the COVID-19 pandemic forced a shift in the Triple Crown schedule.
This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Monmouth Park NJ 2023 Haskell: Will Kentucky Derby winner Mage run?