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Arabian Knight Favored Over Mage in $1M Haskell

The way Bob Baffert sees it, the summertime is when the promise of the spring truly manifests itself in a 3-year-old colt.

“As the horses mature at 3, it makes a big difference,” the Hall of Fame trainer said. “They start coming around and the cream rises to the top.”

That process of separating the cream from the milk will resume in earnest July 22 when the $1 million Haskell Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Park will initiate a stretch of three major grade 1 tests for 3-year-olds in a two-month span with the potential to wrap up the Eclipse Award for the outstanding 3-year-old male or, at the very least, to shine a spotlight on a front runner in another year with three different Triple Crown winners.

What starts with Saturday’s Haskell at the Jersey Shore, and continues Aug. 26 with the Travers Stakes (G1) at Saratoga Race Course—the expected meeting place for all the top contenders which has been won by the last two 3-year-old champs—and concludes Sept. 23 with the Pennsylvania Derby (G1) at Parx Racing, the Monmouth fixture features a diverse collection of eight starters who form a highly intriguing mix.

The name that sticks out belongs to Mage  (post 4, 3-1), the celebrated Kentucky Derby (G1) winner who has not raced since May 20 when the son of Good Magic   settled for third while chasing a slow pace in the Preakness Stakes (G1).

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Then there are the graded stakes runners who missed the Triple Crown in a pair of Californians: Baffert’s Arabian Knight  (post 8, 5-2), who was a premier Kentucky Derby candidate after winning the Southwest Stakes (G3) but was given what turned out to be a six-month break after an unsatisfactory work, and fellow Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella’s Geaux Rocket Ride  (post 1, 9-2), the San Felipe Stakes (G2) runner-up who developed a fever and a high white cell count prior to the Santa Anita Derby (G1) that knocked him off the Triple Crown trail.

Not to be overlooked is Tapit Trice  (post 5, 3-1), the Blue Grass Stakes (G1) winner for another Hall of Famer in Todd Pletcher, whose penchant for starting slow resulted in a seventh in the Kentucky Derby and a third in the Belmont Stakes (G1).

Continuing the Hall of Fame theme, trainer Steve Asmussen, who owns the sport’s all-time record for wins, will send out Extra Anejo  (post 7, 5-1) for his delayed and much anticipated stakes debut.

And then there’s Salute the Stars  (post 3, 8-1), who has a win over the track in the stepping stone Pegasus Stakes for trainer Brad Cox, who won last year’s Haskell with Cyberknife  , plus the longshots Howgreatisnate  (post 6, 20-1), who was third in the Pegasus and won the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth, and Awesome Strong  (30-1), the winner of three Florida Sire stakes a year ago.

It makes for a quality race and a highly effective measuring stick.

“These next three grade 1s are going to be the best 3-year-old races of the year,” said David Fiske, the racing manager for Winchell Thoroughbreds, which owns Extra Anejo.

The Haskell promises to be a pivotal race for Mage, who has raced only five times—three of them in grade 1 company—and owns wins in the Kentucky Derby and a Jan. 28 maiden race. 

Owned by trainer Gustavo Delgado Sr.’s OGMA Investments, Ramiro Restrepo, Sterling Racing, and CMNWLTH, how Mage returns after a two-month break could be a barometer for success in the major tests to come.

“The challenge for us is that Mage is 100% health-wise, and that’s the most important thing. The break did him wonders. It powered him up,” Restrepo said. “But fitness-wise we’ve been up against it because he missed one work due to rain and one that was more of a two-minute lick than a work so we’ve only had three works for the Haskell. That should be fine and we’re hoping the race will move him forward.”

Zedan Racing Stables’ unbeaten Arabian Knight has only raced twice but the son of Uncle Mo  ‘s front-running, 5 1/2-length win in the Jan. 28 Southwest at Oaklawn Park on a sloppy track was a prime indication of his talent level, which, along with respect for Baffert’s epic prowess in the Haskell, was reflected in his positioning as the 5-2 morning-line choice over the Run for the Roses winner at the July 19 post position draw.

“He’s come back well and is breezing well. He does everything so easily. He’s very, very talented. He’s coming off a layoff but he’s ready for the race,” said Baffert, a nine-time winner of the Haskell. “We’re looking forward to running in the Haskell and if he runs well then we’ll have to decide if we go to the Travers or what we do. We’re going to take it one race at a time.”

Pin Oak Stud’s Geaux Rocket Ride returned to the races June 4 with a handy 1 3/4-length win in the Affirmed Stakes at Santa Anita Park that has Mandella hopeful of another big effort by the Candy Ride   colt in the Haskell.

“He’s doing very well. He has not run a lot of times, but he’s very professional about it. We have high hopes and we’ll find out more Saturday,” Mandella said. “I thought the Monmouth track is a little more like ours. Our horse hasn’t raced much and I don’t want to confuse him by throwing too many obstacles at him. The purse was an obvious consideration.”

Whisper Hill Farm and Gainesway Stable’s much-traveled Tapit Trice, who will be running at his seventh different track in his eighth career start, will be hoping for a beneficial pace and a return to nine furlongs to aid his late kick. The multiple graded stakes winner’s last victory came in the 1 1/8-mile Blue Grass.

“It was a tough decision,” Pletcher said about deciding to send the son of Tapit   to the Haskell and 2-year-old champion Forte  to the July 29 Jim Dandy Stakes (G2) at Saratoga Race Course. “Tapit Trice came out of the Belmont really, really good and full of energy. Obviously the grade 1 status of the Haskell and the big purse were attractions as well.”

To say there has always been confidence in the Asmussen/Winchell camp for Extra Anejo might be putting it mildly.

“I could say he’s always been highly regarded, but he’s even more than that,” Fiske said. “Last fall, even before his maiden win at Keeneland, Steve was as enthusiastic about him as I’ve ever seen him be about anybody. (Owner Ron Winchell) and I asked him one day if he thought this was the kind of horse that can win the Kentucky Derby and Steve said, ‘I think he can win the Triple Crown.’ He’s always been pretty well-regarded and so far he hasn’t done anything to make us think we were wrong.”

After flashing his potential in a 9 1/2-length Oct. 13 debut win at Keeneland, hind issues sidelined the son of Into Mischief   until Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs when he finished second in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance optional claimer. He scored by 6 1/4 lengths in his third and most recent start, a June 10 allowance optional claimer at Ellis Park.

“In the race at Churchill Downs, he got out of the gate slow but we wanted to take him back and not shoot to the lead. We were not going to put the pedal to the metal and keep him undefeated. We wanted a learning experience and he ran out of ground,” Fiske said. “In the Ellis race he built off that, stuck right off the pace and was able to move whenever he wanted to. It’s a style that works pretty well at Monmouth.”

As for the decision to make the huge jump into grade 1 waters, Fiske, mindful of the calendar, offered a response that would probably be echoed by the connections of all six starters looking for their initial top-level honors.

“Tick, tock, it’s getting late in the 3-year-old campaign,” he said. “At some point you have to get going.”

Aside from the lucrative purse, the Haskell offers the winner a guaranteed, free spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) through the Breeders’ Cup Challenge: Win and You’re In series, and if one of the eight starters also wins the Travers and Classic they would receive a $1 million bonus from BetMakers, which partners with Monmouth for fixed-odds wagering at the track.

Post time for the Haskell, one of five graded stakes on the card, is 5:45 p.m.

Entries: Haskell S. (G1)

Monmouth Park, Saturday, July 22, 2023, Race 12

  • Grade I
  • 1 1/8m
  • Dirt
  • $1,000,000
  • 3 yo
  • 5:45 PM (local)

Haskell Stakes (G1) Fixed Odds Market With MonmouthBets

(Returns for a $1 wager)

1.    Geaux Rocket Ride $9

2.    Awesome Strong   $31

3.    Salute The Stars    $11

4.    Mage                      $3

5.    Tapit Trice              $4.50

6.    Howgreatisnate      $21

7.    Extra Anejo             $7

8.    Arabian Knight       $3.50

*Prices subject to fluctuation

**Market will be live when the final fields are confirmed later today

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