Photo: Churchill Downs/Reed Palmer
Nine days is all that separates us from New Jersey's signature race, and this year's $1,000,000 William Hill Haskell Invitational is shaping up as a good one...
1. Power Broker 5-1 (Pulpit-Shop Again, by Wild Again) Bob Baffert – Yes, I know, I hang on to my winterbook Kentucky Derby selections like a puppy with a chew toy, but in Power Broker, I truly believe that we still have a horse with his best yet to come. The son of Pulpit broke his maiden in the Grade 1 Front Runner Stakes at Santa Anita last fall before running into a brutal trip in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile. After not being ready to run until well into the spring, his connections threw him immediately into the deep end of the pool in the Santa Anita Derby. It may have been too much too soon, but it showed how much his Hall of Fame trainer thinks of him. Since them he easily handled an allowance field, before rolling in the Easy Goer Stakes on Belmont Day, in a race that has since shaped up to be a bit of a key race. Now fully healthy and prepared, the Haskell should finally be Power Broker's time to shine. And oh, by the way, if he does win, it will be Haskell #7 for his trainer, Bob Baffert.
2. Micromanage 8-1 (Medaglia d'Oro-Catnip, by Flying Paster) Todd Pletcher – Speaking of the Easy Goer, Micromanage was a solid second that day after encountering a little traffic coming out of the turn. Another late developer, the Todd Pletcher charge sandwiched that effort with two wins at Monmouth Park, including an impressive score in the Long Branch Stakes. Pushed out to the parking lot on the first turn that day, he persevered and rallied strongly against a track bias, to overpower his competition to the tune of a going away 4 ½ length score. Granted the competition will be exponentially tougher next Sunday, but the colt so well thought of after an impressive debut last summer at Saratoga looks to be finally coming into his own, and if the favorites trouble each other too much early, he is the one I like to pick up the pieces.
3. Oxbow 2-1 (Awesome Again-Tizamazing, by Cee's Tizzy) D. Wayne Lukas – A smashing winner of the LeComte early in the year, Oxbow has danced every dance. Rebounding quite nicely from a sixth place finish in the Kentucky Derby, the son of Awesome Again led them all on a merry chase to win the Preakness, before demonstrating his true grit in an admirable and gutsy second place Belmont Stakes performance. After attacking a fast pace early, the D. Wayne Lukas charge proved what kind of colt he is by fighting tooth and nail all the way to hold the runner-up position. It's not easy to pick against a horse with the depth of character that Oxbow clearly has, but coming out of a grueling Triple Crown might be just dulling enough to see one of the newer shooters take his measure this time.
4. Verrazano 2-1 (More Than Ready-Enchanted Rock, by Giant's Causeway) Todd Pletcher – This will be the Pletcher runner the bettors prefer. With only a 14th place finish in the Derby standing between him and a perfect 6-for-6 career record, it's really hard to know just how good he really is. If you feel like the Churchill race should be thrown out because of track, trip, or general run for the roses craziness, then by all means, Verrazano might be the horse to beat in the Haskell. If, however, you feel that was his only real test to show his true colors, you would tend to throw him out in against this bunch. I fall somewhere in between the two, but despite being fresh with a nice win over the track, I am willing to take a stand against him at his expected low odds.
5. Golden Soul 10-1 (Perfect Soul-Hollywood Gold, by Mr. Prospector) Dallas Stewart – He shocked many when he rallied strongly on the inside to go from 15th to 2nd in the final half-mile at Churchill Downs at odds of 34-1. With a big performance in the Kentucky Derby under his belt, the good looking homebred son of Perfect Soul attempted to parlay that into another big performance in the Belmont Stakes. It was not to be, as his come-from-behind ways pretty much hit a brick wall early in the stretch of the 12 furlong test. Given a shorter trip of nine furlongs in the Haskell the relatively lightly raced colt might have more punch to his late run. Having said that, and despite his solid works at Churchill of late, I think he is more of a threat to close into the bottom spots of the superfecta, rather than winning the Haskell.
6. Mylute 9-2 (Midnight Lute-Stage Stop, by Valid Expectations) Thomas Amoss – One of many from the first crop of Midnight Lute that can run, Mylute did nothing but impress with solid performances in the Louisiana Derby, Kentucky Derby and Preakness in succession. In fact, his last race was probably his best, as he rallied bravely into Oxbow's slow Preakness splits, and while the other closers had little to no late punch, Mylute kept coming to get into the Preakness picture at the wire. It may have only netted a third place finish, but it was further proof that he belongs in the discussion with the elite of the division. The nine furlongs of the Haskell should be to his liking, and like Micromanage, if the Haskell pace falls apart at all, he has a real shot to be picking up the pieces.