JC / Railbird

Haskell Stakes

Saratoga vs. Monmouth

There’s no need for competition, Ed Fountaine writes:

NYRA should embrace the Haskell — which is, after all, merely a prep race for the marquee event of the Saratoga meet, the 141st Travers Stakes on Aug. 28. Since the same all-star horses that face off at Monmouth on Sunday will renew their rivalry in the “Midsummer Derby,” NYRA should start beating the drums now. Advertise that the local fans can watch and bet on the Haskell at Saratoga on Sunday. Show the race on the infield TV screens. Turn the tables on Monmouth Park by using their signature race to promote yours.

Especially if you’re NYRA, and you’re likely to win the numbers game: The test of Monmouth’s “elite meet” handle figures was always going to be the opening of Saratoga. Friday, when the Spa kicked off its 40-day meet, the New Jersey track took in $5,515,194, a decline of 20% from $6,898,633 the previous Friday, while attendance remained roughly the same. Sunday, Monmouth was down 11% compared to the previous Sunday. Saturday was the odd day out, as Haskell day will certainly be next weekend. With the Lady’s Secret and Rachel Alexandra featured, handle was up 25% and attendance up 37%, which tracked nicely with on-track handle, up 35% over the previous Saturday.

At Saratoga, the first four days of this year’s extended meeting have been declared satisfactory: “Average all-sources handle, wagers on Saratoga races both on-track and from simulcast outlets nationwide, came to $12,834,190 daily, for a total of $51,336,758.” Attendance averaged 18,133 per day.

Related: Steve Zorn offers a more comprehensive comparison.

The Place to Be

That’s Monmouth, this weekend and next. Rachel Alexandra arrived at the track on Tuesday morning for the Lady’s Secret Stakes on Saturday (she may paddock school on Friday, reports Monmouth), and the likely field for the Haskell on August 1, which already included Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Preakness winner Lookin at Lucky, gained Derby runner-up Ice Box. “It’s everything you hope for,” Monmouth general manager Bob Kulina told the Star-Ledger. “It’s shaping up to be the premiere 3-year-old race after the Triple Crown, after the Derby.” (And what about the Travers, the mid-summer Derby? “… we will just have to wait and see what happens in Jersey.”)

Not to slight glorious Saratoga, which opens Friday and drew 127 entries for its 10-race card. Seven are entered in the Schuylerville Stakes, including Belmont maiden winner Stopspendingmaria, one of the buzz babies I’m following here, and Rick Dutrow trainee Le Mi Geaux, one of the first winners for freshman sire First Samurai. He did quite well at Saratoga in 2005, winning an allowance and the Hopeful Stakes.

Speaking of juveniles attracting buzz, Date With Destiny, the only foal of the late champion George Washington, is pointing to the Group 1 Meon Valley Stud Fillies’ Mile on September 25 after her impressive maiden win. The Fillies’ Mile is a Breeders’ Cup Win and You’re In Challenge race, but even if Date With Destiny does win, she’s a longshot for the Breeders’ Cup. Trainer Richard Hannon, addressing talk of sending his star milers to the event, said last month, “I am not interested in what they have to offer across the pond.”

Getting back to Monmouth, somehow I missed Dick Jerardi’s DRF+ column of last week. Per the Beyer speed figure makers, “Monmouth is getting faster (and better) horses at this meet than it got over the same period last year.” The only group not running to higher pars? Jersey breds.


Rachel Alexandra winning the Haskell
Rachel Alexandra and Calvin Borel win the Haskell. (Uploaded by Rock and Racehorses to Flickr.)

She’s beaten the winners of the Illinois Derby, Arkansas Derby, Santa Anita Derby, Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and Tom Fool Handicap. She’s won eight consecutive races, four of those Grade 1s, one a Classic, at six different tracks, and she’s done so by a combined 69 3/4 lengths. Her winning time of 1:47.21 for nine furlongs in the Haskell Invitational came within one-fifth of a second of the Monmouth stakes record; her preliminary Beyer speed figure for the race is 116, which is the highest yet given this year to any horse of any age at any distance over any surface in North America. The leading contender for Horse of the Year, she’s the best of her generation, male or female, and quite possibly, the best American thoroughbred in training.

She’s Rachel Alexandra, and she’s great.

Superlatively speaking: Her Haskell win was preternaturalawesomesurrealeasily the most scintillating seen this yearspine-tingling. (For more, including photos and the race replay, visit R360.)

Meanwhile: Earlier in the day and across the ocean, Breeders’ Cup Mile winner Goldikova turned in a flawless front-running performance to win the Fr-1 Prix de Rothschild. Writes Sue Montgomery in the Independent,

Unlike those commercially driven, demeaning occasions now prevalent at feature race meetings, yesterday was a ladies’ day with a degree of dignity attached. At Deauville, the four-year-old filly Goldikova won the European weekend’s most valuable prize because of her deeds, not her looks. Her class as an athlete was being judged, not the style of her plaits or the colour of her saddlecloth.

Sing it, sister.

The brilliant Goldikova is expected to return to Santa Anita this fall to defend her title. “We’ll follow the same plan as last year,” said trainer Freddie Head.

And at Del Mar: Perfect Zenyatta breezed five furlongs in 1:00 in prep for the Clement Hirsch (video). Could the champion beat Rachel Alexandra, if the two meet? That’ll be the question for the rest of the racing year.

After →