Yes, this is our $1 million G1 field. Boring much? Maybe a bit, but there are two G1 winners here and some who are just knocking on that door bound for the Jersey shore this Sunday. Questions of fitness, pace, and surface awaits many of these competitors, who hope to be the first since Point Given in 2001 to win the Haskell-Travers double.
Track conditions look hopeful to be fast for Sunday once the severe thunderstorm system passes through the northeast by sometime Saturday.
$1 million Haskell Invitational (I) - 3-Year-Olds. 1 1/8 miles on dirt at Monmouth Park. Post Time: Sunday, July 29 at 6:17pm EST.
[Post Position, Horse - Jockey, Impost, Trainer - Summary, Opinion in italics]
1) Nonios - Corey Nakatani, 118 lbs, Jerry Hollendorfer - Classic dirt potential lines this Pleasantly Perfect colt’s pedigree, but this will be the California shipper’s first time actually racing on the surface. Never off the board in 5 starts with 3 wins, Nonios went wide to close in for second in the Swaps (II) and was the upset winner of the Affirmed (III) on Hollywood’s synthetic surface. He gets a jockey change to Nakatani here and ships in cold turkey. Hollendorfer is optimistic otherwise I don’t think he’d ship, stating the colt has run on dirt in training and looks just as good if not better.
2) Dullahan - Kent Desormeaux, 120 lbs, Dale Romans - The Even the Score colt has big wins over synthetic and while he managed to get an excellent 3rd in the Kentucky Derby (I), his form on the surface presents a big question after his Belmont (I) clunker and no wins. He has fired a :59 4/5 bullet at Churchill before shipping in, so it’s really up to whether or not he likes Monmouth.
3) Paynter - Rafael Bejarano, 118 lbs, Bob Baffert - The Awesome Again colt was sublime when almost wiring the Belmont (I), and honestly has always been that good with no finishes worse than a 4th in a G1 race his entire short career. His works speak loud, #1 out every time he hits the poles since late May. The fastest speed figs, promising works, and a jockey change to one familiar with Baffert… yikes!
4) Gemologist - Javier Castellano, 120 lbs, Todd Pletcher - The Tiznow colt went undefeated— including an uplifting win in the Wood Memorial (I)— before getting literally bruised finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby (I). After a vacation, he’s back to looking good with a :58 2/5 bullet at Saratoga. It’s concerning whether or not he’ll have rust and how he’ll choose to run against Paynter, who should be right there next to him in the race.
5) Handsome Mike - Mario Gutierrez, 118 lbs, Doug O’Neill - Featuring no wins since his maiden snap, the Scat Daddy colt has tried virtually everything in the west surface-wise. He breezed sharply out west in typical O’Neill fashion, but has been beaten time after time by better horses. A sharp class step-up would also be necessary for the horse with the same I’ll Have Another connections.
6) Stealcase - Shaun Brigmohan, 118 lbs, Mark Casse - A resounding stretch runner, the Lawyer Ron colt looks to stretch out a bit after finding his bearings, most recently with a runner-up effort in the Matt Winn (II) behind Neck ‘N Neck. A speedy closer who is good on dirt, Stealcase could benefit from a pace scenario that could redeem his outsider status as an improving dirt horse.
Top Picks in Order:
Paynter is without a doubt the horse to beat in this race, having the most factors going his way with little real opposition as well as riding the wave of Baffert winning power— who has also won this race a few times now! I have confidence in the unproven Nonios, who I think has been looking really nice and I’m willing to take a shot that he’s going to go after Paynter in the stretch. Gemologist, an all around nice horse on dirt, I have keyed to stay up there.
Value Pick: Nonios