by Jon White
July 15, 2021
The $1 million Haskell Stakes, premier race of the 2020 Monmouth Park meet, has attracted a field of seven to do battle at 1 1/8 miles.
Louisiana Derby winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up Hot Rod Charlie has been installed as the 6-5 morning-line favorite in the Grade I event.
When I have attempted to pick the winner of the Haskell for the past many years, a good place to start generally has been to take a serious look at the horse or horses trained by Bob Baffert. Why? Baffert has won the Haskell a record nine times.
Not only does Baffert have nine Haskell victories to his credit, 14 of his 15 starters in the race have finished first or second. That’s truly remarkable. Baffert’s only Haskell starter to have finished out of the exacta was Forestry, who ran third behind Menifee and Cat Thief in the 1999 renewal.
Did I go with Baffert last year? No. Knowing that the Baffert-trained Authentic would be a heavy favorite, I decided to opt for someone who would be a better price. Dr Post was my top pick.
I was right that Authentic would be hammered in the wagering. He was sent away as the 3-5 favorite. Dr Post went off at 9-5.
Authentic won, though he almost blew it. After opening a 2 1/2-length lead a furlong from the finish, he won by a scant nose. Authentic almost got nailed at the finish by Ny Traffic, who had to settle second at 5-1 while giving the odds-on favorite a real scare.
Dr Post? He finished third and lost by 4 1/2 lengths.
Well, I don’t have to decide whether to go with or against Baffert in this year’s Haskell. That’s because he is not running a horse in this year’s renewal. But my top pick does happen to be a former Baffert trainee.
My selections for the Haskell are below:
1. Following Sea (3-1 on the morning line)
2. Hot Rod Charlie (6-5)
3. Mandaloun (2-1)
4. Midnight Bourbon (9-2)
As I have stated previously, I think Following Sea might -- I repeat, might -- be a special talent. And as I noted last week, I am not the only one who has this thought.
I recently asked a sharp East Coast observer for his opinion of Following Sea. This person is involved in racing and has had a great deal of success in his particular line of work. I am not identifying him because he spoke to me off the record.
“The sky is the limit” for Following Sea, he said. “He’s about as exciting a horse as I’ve seen in quite a long time.”
New Hall of Famer Todd Pletcher is Following Sea’s current trainer after the colt began his racing career with Hall of Famer Baffert.
Following Sea is by Runhappy, the Eclipse Award-winning champion male sprinter of 2015. Runhappy is by Super Saver. Pletcher won the 2010 Kentucky Derby with Super Saver.
When conditioned by Baffert, Following Sea made his career debut in a strong six-furlong maiden race at Santa Anita on March 6. In a 12-horse field, Following Sea was pounded down to 9-10 favoritism, but he did not win. He finished second, then was disqualified and placed third for causing interference.
Defunded, also trained by Baffert, won that March 6 maiden contest going away by 2 1/2 lengths at odds of 8-1 in his 2021 debut and second career start. In his only start at 2, Defunded finished third in a 5 1/2-furlong maiden race at Del Mar on Aug. 16.
After his maiden score, Defunded has gone on to finish fourth in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby, fourth in the Grade I Pat Day Mile, second in the Grade III Affirmed Stakes and second in the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby for Baffert.
As for Following Sea, a modest 77 Beyer Speed Figure by such a highly regarded 3-year-old in his career debut was a major letdown.
But in his next start, Following Sea did justify the high expectations for him. He won a six-furlong maiden race geared down by 5 3/4 lengths at Oaklawn Park on April 10. His significant improvement in the Beyer Speed Figure department to a 97 demonstrated just how much better he ran this time than at first asking.
After Following Sea graduated from the maiden ranks in Arkansas, Pletcher took over the training duties. Pletcher ran him in a 6 1/2-furlong allowance race on a wet track listed as good June 3 at Belmont Park. Following Sea stepped the opening quarter in :22.03, then zipped the half in :44.79 and six furlongs in 1:08.82 before completing his 6 1/2-furlong journey in 1:15.28.
Following Sea was credited with a 100 Beyer Speed Figure for his June 3 victory. Just as impressive as the robust Beyer was the consummate ease with which the figure was accomplished.
After Following Sea’s June 3 win, Pletcher talked about Belmont’s Grade III Dwyer Stakes at one mile on July 5 or the Haskell as possible next starts for the colt.
Following Sea did not run in the Dwyer. First Captain won that $250,000 race and was credited with a 90 Beyer Speed Figure.
If Following Sea had started in the Dwyer, I believe he almost certainly would have won if he had run anything like he did in his last two races when posting Beyer Speed Figures of 97 and 100. The Dwyer not only quite likely would have been Following Sea’s first graded stakes victory (which is important), he would have collected the $137,500 winner’s share of the purse.
But instead of competing in the Dwyer, Following Sea shows up in the much tougher Haskell. This, to me, is a big sign of confidence in him on the part of his connections when the Dwyer was seemingly a gimme.
There is a potential problem for Following Sea in the Haskell. It’s the 1 1/8-mile distance. He is being asked to race farther than 6 1/2 furlongs for the first time. Fueling concern in this regard is the fact that Following Sea is by a sprint champion. Not only that, his dam, Quick Flip, also is by a sprint champion in Speightstown.
Pletcher is cautiously optimistic that Following Sea can carry his speed beyond sprints.
“He’s a very leggy, classic two-turn looking horse from a physical standpoint,” Pletcher said in a Daily Racing Form story written by Marcus Hersh. “Watching him train, his works have been always impressive, well in hand, good long-winded gallop outs. This race would answer a lot of questions [regarding stamina].
“His last two races, he won being eased to the wire,” Pletcher continued. “He has a high cruising speed we feel like could stretch out. This isn’t the easiest race to try it, especially with some other speed. But if I were a competitor, I’d be wary of trying to go with him early.”
Look for Following Sea to play the “catch me if you can” game in the Haskell.
As for the preponderance of speed in Following Sea’s pedigree, at least there is some hope that he might be effective in two-turn races in that, as mentioned early, his paternal grandsire, Super Saver, had the stamina to win the Kentucky Derby.
HOT ROD CHARLIE MERITS RESPECT
Possessing enough stamina to succeed in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell certainly is not a concern for Hot Rod Charlie. He won the Grade II Louisiana Derby at 1 3/16 miles in March, finished a respectable third in the Grade I Kentucky Derby at 1 1/4 miles in May, then ran a huge race in defeat when the runner-up in the Grade I Belmont Stakes at 1 1/2 miles in June.
Trained by Doug O’Neill, Hot Rod Charlie finished second in the Belmont, 1 1/4 lengths behind Essential Quality and a whopping 11 1/4 lengths in front of third-place finisher Rombauer, who was coming off a win in the Grade I Preakness Stakes.
What made Hot Rod Charlie’s performance in the Belmont so impressive is he managed to finish second despite running the first quarter-mile in :22.78 or :22 3/5 in fifths. It was the fastest opening quarter in the history of the Belmont when contested at 1 1/2 miles. The Belmont was first run in 1867.
Prior to Hot Rod Charlie, the quickest initial quarter in the Belmont when run at 1 1/2 miles had occurred all the way back in 1945. That’s when The Doge covered the initial quarter in :22 4/5, a torrid pace in such a long race on what was then a deep track. The Doge paid the price for his early efforts. He faltered and finished seventh in the field of eight. Pavot won by five lengths, while The Doge lost by a little more than 24 lengths.
The Belmont has been run at 1 1/2 miles a total of 95 times. Hot Rod Charlie ran the opening half-mile in :46.49 or :46 2/5 in fifths. The only horse to ever record a faster time for the first half-mile in a 1 1/2-mile Belmont was Secretariat, who was clocked in :46 1/5.
Below are the horses responsible for the only :46 and change fractional times in the history of the Belmont at 1 1/2 miles:
Year Time Horse, Finished (Winner if Different)
1973 :46 1/5 Secretariat, finished 1st
2021 :46 2/5 Hot Rod Charlie, finished 2nd (Essential Quality)
2013 :46 3/5 Frac Daddy, finished last in field of 14 (Palace Malice)
1991 :46 3/5 Corporate Report, finished 4th (Hansel)
1966 :46 3/5 Highest Honors, finished last in field of 13 (Amberoid)
1959 :46 3/5 Manassa Mauler, finished 4th (Sword Dancer)
1996 :46 4/5 Appealing Skier, finished 12th (Editor’s Note)
1957 :46 4/5 Bold Ruler, finished 3rd (Gallant Man)
The above chart points out just what a terrific race Hot Rod Charlie ran in defeat. Despite recording the second-fastest half-mile time in the history of the race when contested at 1 1/2 miles, he finished far in front of everyone other than Essential Quality.
The following splits all belonged to Secretariat when he won the Belmont by 31 lengths to end a 25-year Triple Crown drought:
:23 3/5, :22 3/5, :23 3/5, :24 2/5, :24 4/5, 25 flat
These were the splits in this year’s Belmont:
:22 3/5, :23 3/5, :25 2/5, :25 1/5, :24 4/5, :24 3/5
Essential Quality, only a head off the leading Hot Rod Charlie at the quarter pole, is the one who ran the final quarter in :24 3/5. All the other splits belonged to Hot Rod Charlie.
Adding one-fifth of a second because Hot Rod Charlie lost by 1 1/4 lengths means that even though he recorded the fastest opening quarter fraction in the history of the Belmont when contested at 1 1/2 miles, he still ran the final quarter in :24 4/5, a fifth of a second faster than Secretariat in his Belmont.
BLINKERS OFF THIS TIME
Hot Rod Charlie will be racing sans blinkers in an equipment change this Saturday. This is particularly interesting when viewed in the context of how much better he ran last year after blinkers were added.
In his first three career starts last year, Hot Rod Charlie lost them all. His Beyer Speed Figures were 51, 56 and 57.
Hot Rod Charlie then showed dramatic improvement with blinkers. He recorded a 78 Beyer when victorious in an Oct. 2 maiden race at Santa Anita, followed by a 94 Beyer when second at odds of 94-1 in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Juvenile at Keeneland on Nov. 6.
In his four starts so far this year, Hot Rod Charlie’s Beyers have been a 94 when third in Santa Anita’s Grade III Robert B. Lewis Stakes, 99 in the Louisiana Derby, 100 in the Kentucky Derby and 108 in the Belmont.
But now Hot Rod Charlie’s blinkers are coming off. He did not have blinkers when he worked five furlongs in 1:00.40 last Friday at Santa Anita. Official clockers listed that work as “breezing.” At Southern California tracks, a workout rarely is listed as breezing, which is to indicate that the horse worked considerably easier without any urging at all than a horse whose workout is termed “handily.”
“We’re trying to get the natural competitive abilities to shine without blinkers,” O’Neill said to Daily Racing Form’s Steve Andersen regarding the decision to have Hot Rod Charlie’s blinkers removed for the Haskell
WHAT KIND OF BEYER IS LIKELY NEEDED TO WIN?
In American Pharoah’s first start following his Triple Crown sweep in 2015, he won the Haskell by 2 1/2 lengths as a 1-10 favorite. He logged a 109 Beyer Speed Figure.
Since American Pharoah, the four Haskell winners have recorded Beyers from 95 to 102.
Based on the Beyers for the most recent four Haskell winners, it seems to me that something like a 99 to 101 might be sufficient to get the job done this Saturday.
If that turns out to be the case, it’s another indication that Following Sea can win the Haskell in view of how easily he ran a 100 Beyer last time out.
The only two other Haskell entrants to have ever achieved a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure are Hot Rod Charlie and Mandaloun.
All of Hot Rod Charlie’s Beyer Speed Figures were mentioned earlier.
When Mandaloun ended up sixth as the 13-10 favorite in the Louisiana Derby, he recorded an 82 Beyer Speed Figure. But he then was credited with a career-best 101 Beyer when he finished second in the Kentucky Derby. He defeated Hot Rod Charlie by a half-length that day.
In his most recent start, Mandaloun regressed to a 94 Beyer when he won Monmouth’s 1 1/16-mile Pegasus Stakes by a neck as a 3-10 favorite on June 13. Brad Cox trains the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt.
Even though Midnight Bourbon has yet to record a Beyer of 100 or higher, he could prove a tough customer in the Haskell. Trained by Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen, the Kentucky-bred Tiznow colt ran second to Rombauer in the Grade I Preakness Stakes at Pimlico on May 15 when last seen under silks.
Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon have met four times this year, as shown below:
--Kentucky Derby on May 1 (Mandaloun second, Midnight Bourbon sixth)
--Louisiana Derby on March 20 (Midnight Bourbon second, Mandaloun sixth)
--Risen Star Stakes on Feb. 13 (Mandaloun first, Midnight Bourbon third)
--Lecomte Stakes on Jan. 16 (Midnight Bourbon first, Mandaloun third)
SUPER SIRE GALILEO DIES; SON WINS BELMONT DERBY
The champion racehorse and fantastic sire Galileo died last Saturday in Ireland at his longtime home, Coolmore’s headquarters in Ireland.
According to a Coolmore news release, the decision to euthanize Galileo stemmed from what was characterized as “a chronic, non-responsive, debilitating injury to his left front foot.” He was 23.
“It’s a very sad day,” Coolmore’s John Magnier said in the news release. “But we all feel incredibly fortunate to have had Galileo here at Coolmore.”
Owner of a tremendous pedigree (by outstanding sire Sadler’s Wells out of 1993 Arc winner Urban Sea), Galileo won six of eight career starts, highlighted by a victory in the coveted Group I Epsom Derby in 2001.
In his final career start, Galileo finished sixth at odds of 7-2 in the Grade I BC Classic at Belmont Park in 2001. Tiznow that day became the first and still only two-time BC Classic winner.
Trained by Aidan O’Brien, Galileo won six of eight lifetime starts and earned $2,245,373.
“He was always a very special horse to us and he was the first [Epsom] Derby winner we had in the post-[Vincent] O’Brien era,” John Magnier said of Galileo in the Coolmore news release. “I would also like to thank Aidan and his team for the brilliant job they did with him. The effect he is having on the breed through his sons and daughters will be a lasting legacy and his phenomenal success rally is unprecedented.”
Galileo owns the world record for having sired the most individual Group/Grade I winners, the most recent of these being Bolshoi Ballet.
Also last Saturday, Bolshoi Ballet became Galileo’s 92nd individual Group/Grade I winner when he took the Grade I Belmont Derby on the grass at Belmont Park.
As a stud, Galileo is best known for siring the great Frankel, who won all 14 of his races and is regarded as one of Europe’s all-time greats. Galileo also is the sire of a record five winners of the Epsom Derby (New Approach in 2008, Ruler of the World in 2013, Australia in 2014, Anthony Van Dyck in 2019 and Serpentine in 2020), plus two winners of the prestigious Group I Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Found in 2016 and Waldgeist in 2019).
In addition to Galileo’s prowess as a racehorse and sire, he has proven to be a tremendous sire of sires. A multitude of Galileo’s sons have sired a Group/Grade I winner.
CAME HOME ALSO A NOTABLE EQUINE DEATH
Meanwhile, BloodHorse reported that multiple Grade I winner Came Home died July 8 after a bout with colic. He was 22.
The announcement of Came Home’s death brought back a brief conversation I had with actor Jeff Bridges one autumn morning at Santa Anita in 2002.
Before I relate my conversation with Bridges, let me give you some background.
While I was in Las Vegas in February 2002, I noticed that Came Home was 100-1 in the Kentucky Derby future book on the board at the Barbary Coast. Sometimes the price on the board does not match the price you get when you go to make your bet. Thus, I wanted to make sure that was the price before making a wager.
“What price do you have on Came Home to win the Kentucky Derby?” I asked the teller.
“100-1,” he replied.
Hearing that, I put down a crisp $100 bill.
“How much of that do you want to bet, sir?” the teller asked.
“All of it.”
That meant that if Came Home captured the 2002 Kentucky Derby, I would win $10,000.
When I made my bet in Vegas, Came Home already had made one start that year. He had won Santa Anita’s Grade II San Vicente Stakes at seven furlongs by four lengths. He then won Santa Anita’s Grade II San Rafael Stakes at one mile by three lengths on March 2 and the Grade I Santa Anita Derby at 1 1/8 miles by 2 1/4 lengths on April 6.
But, alas, Came Home did not win the Kentucky Derby. Sent off at 8-1, he raced close up early before finishing sixth at 8-1, while War Emblem won by four lengths at 20-1.
Later that year on Aug. 25, I was at Emerald Downs to be one of the commentators on the Fox Sports Northwest telecast of the Grade III Longacres Mile. The Pacific Classic was run that same afternoon at Del Mar. While the horses were on the track for the Pacific Classic, I was in the conference room at Emerald, doing research for the Longacres Mile. Sitting across the table from me was ESPN’s Chris Lincoln.
“I am going to be sick if Came Home wins the Pacific Classic,” I said to Lincoln.
“Why is that?” he asked.
“Because I had $100 on him at 100-1 in the future book for the Kentucky Derby,” I said. “I would have made 10 grand if Came Home had won the Kentucky Derby. But War Emblem won the Kentucky Derby. And now War Emblem and Came Home are running against each other today in the Pacific Classic. If Came Home wins today, I will be sick.”
War Emblem finished sixth in the Pacific Classic as the 6-5 favorite. Came Home did win by three-quarters of a length at odds of 10-1.
When Came Home reached the finish line in front, I pounded my fist on the conference table. As I recall, there were maybe seven or eight people in the conference room.
“Okay everybody,” Lincoln said. “Take all sharp objects away from Jon White.”
Despite being bummed out by seeing Came Home win and beat the Kentucky Derby winner, I couldn’t help chuckling when Lincoln said that.
Accompanying BloodHorse’s recent story on Came Home’s death was a video of his victory in the Pacific Classic. With some sharp objects nearby, I could not bring myself to look at the video.
After the Pacific Classic, Came Home won once more before going to stud. The Gone West colt started in the 2002 BC Classic at Arlington Park on Oct. 26. Voloponi won the BC Classic that year. Came Home finished 10th.
Four days before the 2002 BC Classic, Came Home had what would be the final workout of his career. I was at the Gonzalez barn at Santa Anita that morning to watch the workout. Trudy McCaffery, one of Came Home’s owners, also was on hand to observe the drill.
That was when McCaffery introduced me to Bridges, who had accepted McCaffery’s invitation to come out to Santa Anita and watch Came Home’s workout. McCaffery and Bridges were friends. At that time, Bridges was preparing for his upcoming role as Charles S. Howard, the owner of Seabiscuit, in the 2003 film about the 1940 Santa Anita Handicap winner.
McCaffery had known about my Kentucky Derby future book wager on Came Home. As we all accompanied Came Home to the track from the barn on that October morning, McCaffery asked me to tell Bridges about that bet.
I told Bridges that I had put $100 on Came Home in the Kentucky Derby future book at 100-1. If Came Home had won the race, I would have made $10,000.
I went on to say that, unfortunately for me, Came Home did not win the Kentucky Derby. But he then won the Pacific Classic at Del Mar, beating the Kentucky Derby winner, War Emblem.
As we walked along, Bridges seemed to be listening intently to what I was saying. After I was finished with my tale, he waited a bit before he said anything. He seemed to be processing what I had just told him.
After a few minutes, Bridges said, “Let me get this straight. You bet $100 on Came Home in the Kentucky Derby at 100-1?”
“That’s right,” I replied.
“And if Came Home had won the Kentucky Derby, you would have won $10,000?”
“And then Came Home beat the Kentucky Derby winner at Del Mar?”
I said that also was correct.
Bridges paused, then shook his head.
“Man, I really feel for you,” Bridges said.
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
There is no change to the order regarding the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll.
Below is the Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 298 Letruska (13)
2. 266 Maxfield (6)
3. 244 Mystic Guide (7)
4. 225 Domestic Spending (7)
5. 205 Silver State (1)
6. 193 Essential Quality (2)
7. 133 Knicks Go
8. 90 Gamine
9. 55 Max Player
9. 55 Monomoy Girl