Analysis: Haskell Invitational pace expected to be brisk

July 17, 2019 12:20pm
Analysis: Haskell Invitational pace expected to be brisk
Photo: Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO
Judging by the current probables, Saturday's Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park will feature a fast pace. Every name listed besides Everfast wants to set the pace or press, making it a possible war of attrition given the race lacks a quality closer.

Ahead of Wednesday's post position draw, let's take a moment to consider how the Haskell could play out on paper.

The race's website bills this 1 1/8-mile feature as one “Where Champions Prove Their Greatness.” If the likely favorite Maximum Security wins the Haskell, he may indeed have to be great, as he will endure a fast-paced race on the lead. As of right now, his biggest victory came in the Florida Derby (G1) after leading through slow fractions.  

In five out of six races, Maximum Security set the pace. For those looking for hope he might sit off horses, he did stalk on Jan. 24. But it came against inferior competition in a Gulfstream starter allowance at six furlongs.  

Routers with speed can relax more easily in sprints because the pace is different. Even at full speed, a router usually cannot open in 21 or 22.

At most, Maximum Security might sit one or two lengths off at the start. But this horse crossed the wire first in the Kentucky Derby after going on the front end, and the connections are not likely to tinker around with his style now.

On paper, King for a Day displays a bit more versatility. The Uncle Mo colt settled in midpack in the Kentucky Jockey Club (G2) at Churchill Downs last November and even hit the front on the turn before fading to fourth.

King for a Day returned months later and upset Maximum Security in the local Pegasus Stakes with pressing tactics. He possesses quality speed.

But given horses such as Joevia, Bethlehem Road or even Mucho Gusto can take up the presser role this time against Maximum Security, it is not clear where King for a Day will position himself, as others can do the work.

King for a Day will not fall too far behind, though. 

Speaking of Joevia, he ran a solid race in the Belmont Stakes after setting a moderately fast pace and only faded slightly to lose by 1 ¾ lengths.  

Two races back, Joevia also won the Long Branch Stakes on this course in a wire-to-wire score on the slop. That came after getting hooked in a wicked speed duel in the Wood Memorial Stakes (G2) in April.

Earlier in his form, Joevia did chase the pacesetter in the Private Terms Stakes at Laurel, but those tactics failed to work as Alwaysmining drew away by 6 ¾ lengths. Expect Joevia to contest the pace Saturday at all costs.

Bethlehem Road chased the pacesetter Dare Day in the Ohio Derby (G3) at Thistledown, but that race is a special case, as Dare Day broke like a rocket and Bethlehem Road’s jockey Luis Rodriguez Castro tried to play cute.

On May 21, Bethlehem Road set a fast pace in the Parx Spring Derby, as TimeformUS labeled the opening three fractions in this race in red. Given the connections will lose nothing except the entry fees, it makes sense for them to let Bethlehem Road loose in the Haskell and contest the lead.

As for Mucho Gusto, he showed some nice versatility in the Affirmed Stakes (G3) at Santa Anita by converting a wide, pressing trip into a 2 ¼-length win. He also defeated one nice horse in Roadster, who made a moderate run.

Back in March, Much Gusto set the pace in the Sunland Derby (G3) and faded to third, before taking a small break and setting the pace successfully in the Lazaro Barrera Stakes (G3) in mid-May at seven furlongs.

While he wants to set the pace, Mucho Gusto got the green light for the Haskell by proving he can adjust if needed by two or three lengths. Should Maximum Security, Joevia and Bethlehem Road go crazy up front, Mucho Gusto can join King for a Day in letting them go.

What about Spun to Run? If he starts, it will be his first race since March 23 at Parx, where he pressed the pace in an optional claimer on his way to winning by 7 ¼ lengths. He also pressed in his Jan. 19 maiden win.

If nothing else, Spun to Run will sit in the right position. But asking him to win off a four-month layoff with no stakes experience is a lot.

And, finally, Everfast will settle in last several lengths back. But on paper, the Preakness Stakes' runner-up isn't fast enough to rally all the way to the lead -- at least in the paper race.

One rule to keep in mind when pace handicapping: Just because the race flow favors one horse, it does not mean that horse is good enough to win.

The Haskell pace is fast on paper. But in reality, it might turn into a chess game where one or two horses expected to duel will take back. But in all likelihood, the race will favor those horses who can sit a few lengths off the pacesetter, as opposed to needing the lead, and leave enough in reserve late.


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Meet Reinier Macatangay

My first time at the racetrack came as a 5-year-old kid at Santa Anita Park. For most of my younger life, that was the only track I attended other the occasional visit to Hollywood Park. 

Years later, after graduating California State University, Stanislaus with an English MA, I began writing for Lady and the Track. From late 2014-2016, my articles were seen on a weekly basis and covered handicapping, interviews with well-known racing personalities, fashion and more. 

The handicapping style I use concentrates on pace analysis. Some horses are compromised by the pace. Others are helped. Handicappers just starting out cannot easily see how pace affects the finish, so with this blog, I hope to help those unsure of how to apply pace into their handicapping and post-race analysis. 

On an unrelated note, I enjoy video games and attending anime or comic-book conventions. I am currently based in Kentucky, but spend a lot of time traveling between there and California.

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