No doubt that The Haskell Invitational is the young upstart in the Grade I three year-old stakes, having only been around since 1968. The Haskell has even had to overcome a bit of a childhood identity crisis because until 1981 the race was known as the Monmouth Invitational. However, there is absolutely no doubt that the Haskell is growing up just fine.
The Haskell has grown to be known as the race “Where champions prove their greatness”. Since the new millennium, winners of The Haskell have taken down four Horse of the Year titles with Point Given in 2001, Curlin in 2007 and 2008, and Rachel Alexandra in 2009. The past 5 three year-old champs have run in The Haskell. In total more than 20 Eclipse award winners have run in the race since 1975. Three Haskell runners have proven their greatness by taking the Breeders Cup Classic with Alysheba in 1988, 1997 Skip Away, and in 2007 Curlin came back to Monmouth to win it.
Monmouth Park puts on quite a show on this Day. Of course it all starts out with the greatest racetrack giveaway, the Haskell hat. C’mon, Brian how many of these hats do you have hidden in your home? This year the undercard has seven stakes races, including two grade III races on the turf with $200,000 purses. The Oceanport Stakes is run at a mile and a sixteenth and the Taylor Made Matchmaker is for fillies and mares at nine furlongs. There is a pair of $100,000 stakes at a mile and a sixteenth with the Majestic Light for the boys and the Lady’s Secret for the girls. Sprinters are on display in the 100 grand Regret for fillies and mares and the Teddy Drone for three year olds and upward. The Jersey Derby is run on the turf at the mile and a sixteenth distance. That is eight stakes on the twelve race Haskell card.
There have been several years where The Haskell winner has come back and won the Travers. Starting in 1974 Holding Pattern won both races, in 1975 Wajima, 1986 Wise Times, 1988 Forty Niner, 1998 Coronado’s Quest, and most recently in 2001 with Point Given. So, we can call those years all even.
However, there were a bunch of years that horses needed to find a softer spot in the Travers after getting beaten in The Haskell. In 1968 Chompion finished second at Monmouth but won at the Spa. Annhliate ‘Em lost to Our Native in the 1973, the 3 YO season of Secretariat. Of course in 1976 Honest Pleasure couldn’t handle the record setting performance of our favorite, Majestic Light, and finished third. Corporate Report recovered from his second place finish in 1991 to win the Saratoga Midsummer Derby. Then Rachel Alexandra put a six length whoopin’ on Summer Bird in 2009.
Speaking of Rachel Alexandra her performance in the 2009 Haskell was one of the great performances in any race at any racetrack. The filly used her 1:47-1 win against the boys as a major credit in her Horse of the Year credentials. The 1987 Haskell matched the Belmont winner Bet Twice and the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Alysheba. Bet Twice tied the stakes record as he held off the tremendous closing finish the horse who would go on to be the 1988 HOY, Alysheba.
Over the years a maturing Haskell has begun to produce its own winners. Majestic Light sired Wavering Monarch the winner of the 1982 running. The great 1998 Horse of the Year, Skip Away, was produced by the 1985 winner Skip Trial and Forty Niner was the father of the 1998 Haskell winner Coronado’s Quest.
The Haskell Invitational is what makes racing at the Jersey Shore great. From the minute you get your hat until the excitement of the Haskell, there is no better day of thoroughbred action anywhere. The Travers is a major part of the most historic race meeting in the country, but The Haskell can go head to head with any day of racing at any track.
Matt, you played right into my hands, thank you. 1968? The Haskell is a relative baby. How can it possibly carry the prestige of The Travers? No identity crisis here, the Travers has been around since 1864. Imagine that, it had celebrated its 100th birthday before there even was a Haskell, or Monmouth Invitational. The Haskell has become a big race, but it has a lot more growing up to do before it can rival the Mid Summer Derby.
I'll admit the Haskell has had a nice run of Eclipse Award winners of late, but again that is only recent history. To compare two races don't you need a bigger sample than the last ten years? The Travers continues to be a race where champions race, decade after decade. Just recently we've seen champions Summer Bird, Street Sense, and Bernardini win the Travers. 20 since '75 is a nice number for the Haskell, but the Travers, so full of history, has had more than that in the same time period. And keep in mind that two of those BC Classic winners you mention (Alysheba and Skip Away) came to the Travers and got their Haskell hats handed to them.
Yes, I still have a few hats from the Haskell in the closet … deep in the closet. I mean who wears neon green, orange or purple baseball caps? You want to talk undercards? OK, let's go. I'll take your Oceanport and Teddy Drone and raise you a King's Bishop. It is the premier race of the year for three-year-old sprinters after all. Oh, and the Ballerina is another grade 1 on the Travers card. How many other grade 1's can Haskell Day boast? **crickets** Throw in the Ballston Spa and the Victory Ride, and you have a day of pure quality. It may not have eight stakes, but it has better stakes. Not to mention the excellent stakes that surround the Travers on the Saratoga schedule. As big as the Haskell is in Jersey, do not forget, the Travers is the signature race of America's signature meet.
Now finally you make a point that we can agree on. The Haskell has proven to be an excellent prep for the Travers to be sure. Some have won at the Spa, like the ones you mentioned, and some have gone down at Saratoga, but I totally agree that the Haskell is a fine way to prepare a horse for the summer's most important race.
Yes, sometimes horses will lose the prep before they win the big prize. And you know as well as I do that there have been more Haskell winners to be beaten in the Travers, than vice-versa. Horses like Skip Away, Bet Twice, Roman Ruler, Peace Rules, and Bluegrass Cat come to mind. You also neglected to mention what the winners of some of those Haskell's you listed did in the Travers. Majestic Light and Lost Mountain (who beat Corporate Report in '91) both finished up the track when they were tested at the classic distance of the Travers Stakes.
I see you are trying to use my love for Rachel Alexandra against me in this argument. Yes, her Haskell was stunning, and she did not run in the Travers, but I don't remember seeing Affirmed and Alydar in the Haskell. Nor do I remember Bernardini, Easy Goer, Arts and Letters, Damascus, Buckpasser, Native Dancer, Whirlaway or Man O' War for that matter. The Bet Twice - Alysheba edition was fabulous, but didn't they both come to the Travers and lose? You want to see a great race, replay the 1962 Jaipur - Ridan Travers. It may have been the greatest race ever run.
That is a nice little stat, showing the importance of the Haskell, but the Travers has that too. Alydar and Easy Goer, Forty Niner and Coronado's Quest, and Thunder Gulch and Point Given being recent examples. The breeding angle also means a little less to me at the distance of nine furlongs. After all, the 1 ¼ miles of the Travers is America's classic distance. The Kentucky Derby, the Breeders Cup Classic, and the Travers … three American classics.
The Haskell is great, and it is the signature race of New Jersey, but it is just not as great as the Travers, and that is what this debate is all about. These two races are like the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. While the Preakness has had its share of champions, it is simply not the Derby, nor will it ever be. Sorry Haskell, but against the Travers, you are in the same boat as the Preakness. The Haskell is a great race, but it will never be bigger than the Travers.