by Jon White
July 15, 2020
Coming off his first defeat when second in the Grade I Santa Anita Derby on June 6, Authentic seeks to regain his winning ways in Saturday’s Grade I Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. The 1 1/8-mile affair has attracted a field of seven.
Monmouth oddsmaker Brad Thomas has installed Authentic as the Haskell morning-line favorite at 4-5. Dr Post is the 5-2 second choice. Ny Traffic is 7-2. The others are 15-1 or higher.
When it came to the 1 1/8-mile Santa Anita Derby, I went with my gut and picked Honor A.P. to win. I did that even though Honor A.P. had finished second to Authentic in Santa Anita’s Grade II San Felipe Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on March 7.
I was glad that I went with my gut. Honor A.P. won the Santa Anita Derby by 2 1/4 lengths at 2-1. Authentic finished second as the 1-2 favorite.
I might be sorry this time, but I am going with my gut again by picking Dr Post to win the Haskell.
Here are my Haskell selections:
1. Dr Post
3. Ny Traffic
4. Jesus’ Team
Hall of Famer Bob Baffert trains Authentic. Because I’m not picking Baffert to win Saturday’s Haskell, I can’t blame you for thinking that I should be fitted for one of those jackets with the sleeves in the back. After all, Baffert has won the Haskell a record eight times.
Baffert’s Haskell winners are listed below:
2015 American Pharoah
2010 Lookin At Lucky
2005 Roman Ruler
2002 War Emblem
2001 Point Given
Even though Baffert has won the Haskell eight times, it’s not the stakes race that he has dominated the most.
No trainer has dominated any of this country’s current Grade I races to such an extent as Baffert with his 14 Del Mar Futurity wins.
According to my research, fellow Hall of Famers D. Wayne Lukas and Whittingham are the two trainers closest to Baffert in terms of dominating any of this country’s current Grade I races.
Lukas has won both the Grade I Del Mar Debutante and Grade I Chandelier Stakes (formerly Oak Leaf Stakes) at Santa Anita nine times. Whittingham won the Santa Anita Handicap nine times.
If I am not going with Baffert to win Saturday’s Haskell, Todd Pletcher -- who undoubtedly will be joining Baffert in the Hall of Fame next year -- would seem a good way to go. Pletcher has won the Haskell three times.
Pletcher’s Haskell winners are listed below:
2007 Any Given Saturday
2006 Bluegrass Cat
Authentic, who has won three of four career starts, most likely will go immediately to the front Saturday. It appears to me that he has a very good chance to be able to set an uncontested early pace. If that does happen, it will be a tall order for anyone to catch him.
Then why in the heck am I picking Dr Post to win?
Well, as I said, I just have a gut feeling that Dr Post can do it. I’m also inclined to go ahead and go with Dr Post to win the race because he definitely will be a better price in the betting than Authentic.
As for Authentic, another plus is the Kentucky-bred Into Mischief colt will be ridden by Hall of Famer Mike Smith. It’s always a good thing to have Smith as your jockey in a lucrative race like the $1 million Haskell. They don’t call him “Big Money Mike Smith” for nothing.
Smith has two Haskell wins to his credit -- Holy Bull in 1994 and Coronado’s Quest in 1998.
But I have no problem whatsoever with Dr Post’s pilot, Joe Bravo. Though it’s true that his only Haskell victory came aboard Lion Heart in 2004, Bravo has won a zillion races at Monmouth through the years. They don’t call him “Jersey Joe Bravo” for nothing.
I was impressed with Dr Post’s 2020 debut in which he recorded a 96 Beyer Speed Figure when won a seven-furlong maiden special weight race at Gulfstream Park on March 29.
I also was impressed when Dr Post won the 1 1/16-mile Unbridled Stakes at Gulfstream on April 25. His Beyer in the Unbridled dropped to an 86, but I liked the way the Kentucky-bred Quality Road colt got the job done despite not having the best of trips.
In Dr. Post’s most recent appearance under silks, he finished second at 7-1 behind odds-on favorite Tiz the Law in the Grade I Belmont Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on June 20. I thought that was a fine effort on the part of Dr Post inasmuch as it was just his fourth career start.
While I have much respect for Authentic, I have a gut feeling that we might not have seen the best from Dr Post yet. I think there is a possibility that Dr Post will go out there and run even better in the Haskell than he did in the Belmont.
Ny Traffic, trained by Saffie Joseph Jr., could have a big say in the Haskell. He’s been knocking on the door in graded stakes races.
A New York-bred Cross Traffic colt, Ny Traffic finished third behind Modernist and Major Fed in a division of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes at Fair Grounds Race Course & Slots on Feb. 15.
Ny Traffic then ran second in the Grade II Louisiana Derby on March 21. Wells Bayou won that race.
Most recently, Ny Traffic finished second to Maxfield in the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs on May 23.
ART COLLECTOR CONTINUES RISE WITH BLUE GRASS WIN
After winning last Saturday’s Grade II Blue Grass Stakes by 3 1/2 lengths, Art Collector rises to No. 3 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10 this week after being No. 9 last week.
Here is my current Kentucky Derby Top 10:
1. Honor A.P.
2. Tiz the Law
3. Art Collector
5. Dr Post
6. Uncle Chuck
8. Max Player
9. King Guillermo
My Kentucky Derby rankings also appear weekly in the Friday edition of John Cherwa’s Los Angeles Times horse racing newsletter. Normally, the Top 10 for the newsletter is identical to my Top 10 for Xpressbet.com. But this might not be the case this week. That’s because someone from Thursday’s Peter Pan Stakes at Belmont Park could make their way onto my Top 10 for Friday’s newsletter.
The Blue Grass was Art Collector’s first stakes victory. He’s now three for three in 2020. Prior to the Blue Grass, the Kentucky-bred Bernardini colt had won a pair of races at Churchill Downs this year by 2 3/4 and 6 1/2 lengths.
That 6 1/2-length win on June 13 in a 1 1/16-mile contest, accomplished in an excellent 1:41.35, was a giant clue that he might be one tough dude in the 96th running of the Blue Grass.
There was another sign that Art Collector could run a biggie in the Blue Grass. When he won on June 13, the runner-up was Shared Sense, who subsequently won last week’s Indiana Derby by three lengths at Indiana Grand.
Swiss Skydiver, a filly, was sent off as the slight $2.20 to $1 favorite in the Blue Grass. Art Collector was a close $2.30 to $1 second choice.
On the Blue Grass morning line, Swiss Skydiver was the 3-1 favorite, while Art Collector and Rushie were the co-second choices at 5-1. (Art Collector originally had been mistakenly listed at 6-1 on the morning line by Keeneland communications.)
Thirteen broke from the gate in the Blue Grass. Swiss Skydiver and Art Collector were prominent from the outset.
Swiss Skydiver maintained a slight advantage as she made her way around the far turn, while Art Collector was breathing down her neck. Rushie moved up to threaten on the far turn, but then lacked the necessary additional punch in the lane.
From the top of the stretch to the vicinity of the sixteenth pole, Swiss Skydiver and Art Collector were locked in a fierce head-and-head battle for the lead while well clear of the others. Art Collector then asserted his superiority in the final sixteenth to draw clear.
Though Swiss Skydiver could not keep up with Art Collector in the last sixteenth, the filly continued on well enough to finish well clear of the others. Rushie, racing wide throughout at 7-1, ended up third, 4 3/4 lengths behind Swiss Skydiver.
While Swiss Skydiver was thwarted in her bid to make history by becoming the first filly to win the Blue Grass since it was inaugurated in 1911, she certainly gave it an admirable try. The only other filly to have run in the Blue Grass was Hattie Sue, who finished fifth in 1944.
UNCLE CHUCK’S STRIDE IMPRESSES BAFFERT
Highly regarded Uncle Chuck, No. 6 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, had a splendid workout Monday at Del Mar. The Kentucky-bred Uncle Mo colt, undefeated in two starts, registered a four-length victory in the Grade III Los Alamitos Derby on July 4.
Uncle Chuck probably will make his next start in Saratoga’s Grade I Runhappy Travers Stakes at 1 1/4 miles on Aug. 8, according to Baffert.
Santa Anita Derby winner Honor A.P., No. 1 on my Kentucky Derby Top 10, is headed to Del Mar’s Shared Belief Stakes at 1 1/16 miles on Aug. 1. Florida Derby and Belmont Stakes winner Tiz the Law, No. 2 on my Top 10, is scheduled to make his next start in the Travers.
Concerning Uncle Chuck’s drill earlier this week, Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman wrote that the colt “glided around the Del Mar main track Monday morning with an effortless half-mile in :47.60, after which he galloped out an additional furlong. The work was faster than planned, but not because he was being asked.”
Baffert was especially impressed with Uncle Chuck’s long stride in Monday’s workout.
“He looked like Arrogate, didn’t he?” Baffert was quoted as saying to Privman. “He jumps a long ways. Arrogate was like that. He’s got that stride. And he’s fast.”
Arrogate had won three of four career starts before making his stakes debut in the 2016 Travers. In what I ranked as the top 2016 performance by a Thoroughbred in the United States, Arrogate won the Travers by 13 1/2 lengths in 1:59.36 to obliterate Saratoga’s track record for 1 1/4 miles.
HORSE OF THE YEAR CHASE LOOKS WIDE OPEN
Seven horses received first-place votes in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll. That indicates that the 2020 Horse of the Year title is up for grabs at this point. The seven horses to receive first-place votes in this week’s poll are Midnight Bisou, Tom’s d’Etat, Vekoma, Monomoy Girl, Tiz the Law, Code of Honor and Maximum Security.
The Top 10 in this week’s NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 369 Midnight Bisou (22)
2. 334 Tom’s d’Etat (9)
3. 294 Vekoma (2)
4. 142 Monomoy Girl (1)
5. 134 Zulu Alpha
6. 133 Mucho Gusto
7. 130 By My Standards
8. 118 Tiz the Law (2)
9. 98 Code of Honor (1)
10. 95 Maximum Security (3)
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THREE-YEAR-OLD POLL
After ranking 28th last week, Art Collector made a giant leap all the way up to No. 4 in this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll.
The Top 10 this week’s NTRA Top Three-Year-Old Poll is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 399 Tiz the Law (39)
2. 357 Honor A.P. (1)
3. 244 Authentic
4. 242 Art Collector
5. 180 Dr Post
6. 148 King Guillermo
7. 118 Uncle Chuck
8. 110 Swiss Skydiver
9. 108 Gamine
10. 60 Max Player
WAR OF WILL, RUSHING FALL JOIN ELITE CLUBS
When War of Will took the Maker’s Mark Mile by a nose at odds of 5-1 on the grass last Friday at Keeneland, he became a Grade I winner on turf and on dirt. He captured the Grade I Preakness Stakes on the dirt at Pimlico in 2019.
War of Will is just the third horse to win a Triple Crown event on dirt and a Grade I grass race. The other two were two-time Horse of the Year Secretariat and fellow two-time Horse of the Year California Chrome.
In War of Will’s only previous 2020 start, he finished fifth in Santa Anita’s Grade I Shoemaker Mile on May 25, then was disqualified and placed sixth for causing interference.
Mark Casse (elected to this country’s Hall of Fame this year) trains War of Will.
Last Saturday at Keeneland, Rushing Fall proved a punctual 4-5 favorite in the Grade I Jenny Wiley Stakes on the grass. The Kentucky-bred More Than Ready filly prevailed by three-quarters of a length for trainer Chad Brown.
Since races in this country were first graded in 1973, Rushing Fall is only the third Thoroughbred to race exclusively in this country and win a Grade I event at 2, 3, 4 and 5. The other two were Beholder and Lady Eli.
McKinzie had a chance to also become a Grade I winner at 2, 3, 4 and 5 when he competed in the Grade I Met Mile on July 4. But he somehow managed to lose both a front and hind shoe during the race and finished fifth.
SPEECH’S 97 BEYER VALIDATED
I will, from time to time, point out when I beleive a Beyer Speed Figure is off, such as was the case with a number of American Pharoah’s races. But I’ve also stated many times that I think Beyer Speed Figures are a useful tool for horseplayers. I would not refer to them as often as I do if I felt otherwise.
When Speech finished second in a 1 1/16-mile allowance/optional claiming race at Oaklawn Park on May 2 for trainer Michael McCarthy, she recorded a 97 Beyer Speed Figure. She lost that race by a neck to the Baffert-trained Gamine, who was credited with a 98 Beyer.
Prior to that 97 Beyer by Speech, her top figure had been an 86. Speech followed her 97 Beyer by recording an 88 when she finished second, four lengths behind Swiss Skydiver, in the 1 1/16-mile Santa Anita Oaks on June 6.
When Speech dropped from a 97 to an 88 Beyer, I questioned the validity of the 97. I thought the 97 might be out of whack.
But after Speech won Keeneland’s Grade I Ashland Stakes by three lengths at 1 1/16 miles last Saturday, I now believe that 97 Beyer is legit because Speech even exceeded that figure by posting a 101 Beyer in the Ashland.
What I think probably happened is Speech “bounced,” or regressed, when she dropped to an 88 Beyer in the Santa Anita Oaks from her 97 at Oaklawn. Considering how hard Speech ran to nearly beat Gamine at Oaklawn, this makes perfect sense.
Meanwhile, as an indication of what a fantastic filly Gamine is, while Speech regressed from her 97 Beyer at Oaklawn to an 88 in her next race, Gamine went the other way in a big way. Gamine went from her 98 Beyer at Oaklawn to a monstrous 110 when she won Belmont’s Grade I Acorn Stakes by 18 3/4 lengths at one mile on July 20.
I ranked Gamine’s Acorn as the best performance by a Thoroughbred in the United States during the first half of 2020.
Baffert has said Gamine’s Acorn is probably the best race a filly or mare has ever run for him.
FORMER JOCKEY KEN CHURCH PASSES AWAY
Many in the Southern California racing community, including yours truly, were saddened by the news from Del Mar that former jockey Ken Church died Monday at a hospital in Reno, Nev. He was 90.
Del Mar had received word of Church’s death from his daughter, Debbie Anderson.
Anderson said that her father had suffered a case of pneumonia a week ago at the retirement home where he lived in Reno and was moved to a local hospital. The cause of death was listed as COVID-19.
Born in Windsor, Ontario, on March 24, 1930, Church first came to the track at Woodbine as a teenager, then began riding in the U.S. a short time later. According to the Daily Racing Form obituary written by Privman, Church rode his first winner in Detroit in 1947.
Church rode more than 2,000 winners from over 14,000 mounts. He won titles at Arlington Park, Churchill Downs, Garden State Park, Keeneland and Washington Park. Church also rode in Florida and Louisiana before coming to California.
In 1964, Church won the Santa Anita Handicap aboard Mr. Consistency, who was sent away at 5-1 in the field of 18. It was a marvelous ride on the part of Church. As far back early as 14th, Church and Mr. Consistency made a bold move to take the lead in upper stretch. Mr. Consistency had a half-length advantage with an eighth of a mile to go. Did Church move too soon? Nope. Mr. Consistency stayed in front throughout the final furlong to win by three-quarters of a length.
When Church talked about Viking Spirit, a twinkle typically would come to his eye. In 1965, Church won both the Carter Handicap at Aqueduct and Bing Crosby Handicap at Del Mar on Viking Spirit.
After Church retired as a jockey in 1967, he went to work in the publicity departments at Del Mar, Hollywood Park and Santa Anita. He was principally involved in radio and television at those tracks.
In the 1970s, Church participated in the popular Rocking Chair Derby at Del Mar for retired jockeys. He won it in 1974.
During the time I was employed by the Daily Racing Form, I worked the Del Mar meetings from 1982 to 1993, first as a writer/columnist, then as a chart-caller. Church was at Del Mar during those years after leaving Hollywood Park and Santa Anita to reduce his workload.
Of the hundreds of people I’ve crossed paths with in racing since I first was hired by the DRF in 1974, none have been nicer than Ken Church.
Whenever I worked at Longacres in the 1970s when I was with the DRF, I participated in the “media show parlay.” Ten members of the media each put up $2 every Sunday. Each person would pick a horse for the $20 show parlay. But once a horse had been picked in a race, no one else could make a pick in that race. A random draw each week determined the selection order. The most important thing was not to be the person to blow the parlay. That’s because the person who blew the parlay inevitably would get much grief from everyone else. It was a blast.
In the press box at Del Mar in the 1980s, I copied the “media show parlay” concept from Longacres. We had five participants every Sunday, four DRF employees and Church. Because there were only five of us, we each put up $4. Again, it was a lot of fun. I can tell you that Church absolutely loved being involved in that weekly show parlay.
I can honestly say that Ken Church was one of my favorite things about being in the Del Mar press box during all those years I worked there in the 1980s and early 1990s.