Haskell 2015: the Historic American Pharoah Edition

July 31, 2015 11:16am

The 2015 Haskell Invitational is the 48th running of Monmouth Park’s signature race, but this year it could easily be called the Historic American Pharoah edition. American Pharoah will be the very first Triple Crown winner to ever run at the New Jersey shore racetrack.

The day before the field was to be drawn, a historic announcement came from Monmouth Park officials that the purse for the Haskell was going to be increased to $1,750,000 from the $1,000,000 level which has been in place since 1997. That makes the race the biggest purse ever offered at any New Jersey racetrack aside from the 2007 Breeders’ Cup. Dennis Drazin, special advisor for Monmouth Park, explained the increase, “We see the Haskell this year as the fourth jewel of the Triple Crown and we did this to honor the horse, American Pharoah.”

There is a very good chance that American Pharoah will rewrite history as recorded in the Haskell record book. At the draw the Zayat Stables runner was installed as a 1-5 morning line favorite. If the betting public agrees he could start as the biggest betting favorite and best Big Brown’s odds of .20-1 in the 2008 Haskell.

Everyone assumes that American Pharoah will ensure that a new attendance record will be set eclipsing the previous mark of 53,638 in 2003 when Funny Cide finished third. Several other records could fall to Pharoah in this historic Haskell. Verrazano has the largest winning margin of 9 ¾ lengths in 2013. The stakes record of 1:47 for the mile and an eighth is held jointly by Majestic Light in 1976 and Bet Twice in 1987. The track record of 1:46.80 was set in 1985 by Spend a Buck.

With a record crowd could come history in the wagering, also. The largest handle on the Haskell alone was $4,463,736 in 2010 when Coil won the race. The record of $17,642,955 for all-source handle on the entire Haskell card came in 2008.

The increased purse caused a couple of last minute additions, which increased the field to eight. American Pharoah [PP-4, 1-5 ML, Bob Baffert, Victor Espinoza] drew post position four as he looks to add on to his current seven race win streak. At the draw Zayat Stables Manager Justin Zayat said, “The Haskell is special to us. We love Monmouth. I want everyone to have the greatest day on Sunday.”

American Pharoah’s connections weighed in on their superstar. Zayat expects his horse to continue his winning ways, “His consistency is amazing. He keeps doing what he does. He’s Pharoah.” Baffert said, “He’s holding his form really well. We’re just having fun with him.” Assistant Trainer Jimmy Barnes added, “He’s always at the front of his stall waiting for me in the morning. He’s a runner. He’s a race horse and what an athlete he is.”

Trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the Haskell three times, has three horses entered. Competitive Edge [PP-2, 8-1 ML, Todd Pletcher, Mike Smith] who is cross-entered in Saturday’s Jim Dandy (G2) at Saratoga, returns to action after finishing sixth in the Woody Stephens (G2) on Belmont Stakes Day. Prior to that, he had not tasted defeat in his first four starts. He is a horse that likes to be on or near the lead and there still remain serious question about his ability to get the nine furlongs and to handle two turns.

The two last minute Haskell entries are from Pletcher and both have enjoyed some success at Monmouth Park. Nonna’s Boy [PP-3, 30-1 ML, Pletcher, jockey TBA] comes from the Repole Stable and is the winner of the July 11th Lamplighter as the favorite. His stablemate Dontbetwithbruno [PP-8, 30-1 ML, Pletcher, jockey TBA] finished second in the Lamplighter and fourth in the Pegasus (G3) both run at Monmouth.

Upstart [PP-1, 6-1 ML, Rick Violette, Joe Bravo], who is also entered in the Jim Dandy, returns to the track after his last place finish in the Kentucky Derby. Upstart was a fierce competitor on the Gulfstream Park Derby Trail in the Spring. He likes to sit just behind the pacesetters to make his strong move.

Mr. Jordan [PP-5, 15-1 ML, Eddie Plesa Jr., Pace Lopez] makes his home at the Jersey Shore. Plesa like the chances of his grey colt, “He’s 100 percent, couldn’t be any better. He’s here, he’s used to the track and the New Jersey weather.” He most recently won the Pegasus and is another horse that likes to be on or near the lead.

Although Keen Ice [PP-6, 12-1 ML, Dale Romans, Kent Desormeaux] has only one career win, he is always a threat at the end of a race. The Donegal runner has been in seven straight graded stakes and has picked up a check in many of them with a third in the Belmont Stakes most recently.

Top Clearance [PP-7, 30-1, Wayne Catalano, Abel Castellano Jr.] is a recent allowance winner at Monmouth Park for his red hot trainer. Catalano said, “He’s training unbelievable. His last race looked like a gallop. You have to take a shot. We’re all equal standing in the gate.”

Make no doubt about it that the 2015 Haskell is all about the Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. I fully expect him to continue his winning ways and to do it in a dominant and possibly record setting way. The other seven horses are battling for the very healthy $350,000 for second place, and $175,000 for third. I think that Competitive Edge is going to opt for the Jim Dandy, which is lacking in frontrunners. Upstart and Mr. Jordan are most likely to complete the Haskell exacta and trifecta.

UPDATE on the Pletcher runners: Competitive Edge will run in the Haskell, but Nonna's Boy is likely to scratch.


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Meet Matt Shifman

Matt Shifman has been on the Horse Racing Nation staff since 2011 and currently serves as Assistant Editor. Matt covers Aqueduct, Belmont Park, Monmouth Park, and Saratoga in his two HRN blogs, Racing at the Jersey Shore and New York State of Racing.

Since 2012, Matt has been a voter in the NTRA weekly polls for the Top Thoroughbred and Top Three-Year-Old.

Recently, Matt helped launch Derby Day Racing, a new 2-year-old racing partnership, that just purchased a promising Lookin At Lucky filly named Sooner Schooner.

You may also know Matt by his Twitter, Facebook, and HRN screen nameAndyScoggin.

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