One of My Favorite Haskell Invitationals

One of My Favorite Haskell Invitationals
It's been thirty years, but I remember the Haskell Invitational of 1981 like it was yesterday. Previously known as the Monmouth Invitational, '81 was the first year it was called the Haskell, and on the 1st of August we were all in store for a showdown at the Jersey shore. In one corner you had the defending 2-year-old champion, Lord Avie, and in the other corner was the challenger and my favorite horse, Five Star Flight. The crowd was divided in their loyalties, but the majority were in the corner of Lord Avie. He was made a 1-2 favorite over the 8-5 Five Star Flight, while the other four horses served as little more than sacrificial lambs.
The stretch-running Lord Avie was the best juvenile of 1980 and he looked every bit the champion in winning the Florida Derby earlier in the year. Unfortunately, he came out of that race with an injury, and the early Derby favorite was off the Triple Crown trail. Returning to the races, Lord Avie had won an easy prep a few weeks before the Haskell. Five Star Flight meanwhile was a speedy Florida bred trained by Ben Perkins who had not yet fulfilled the potential that he had flashed several times in his short career. He had caught my the fall before at the Meadowlands, and looked ready to take it to the next level in the aforementioned Florida Derby, but he dueled on the lead that day and backed out. He too came out of that race an injured horse.
Five Star Flight’s return to the races came sooner than Lord Avie as he reappeared in an allowance race at Monmouth Park less than three months after his Florida Derby injury. One minute and eight seconds after the race began, it was clear that Five Star Flight was still a horse on a path for stardom. Next came one of the greatest allowance race match-ups I have ever seen as Five Star Flight and Noble Nashua ding-donged all the way down the Belmont stretch. 1:21 and change was the time as Noble Nashua defended his unbelievable love for his favorite track by a short head. Noble Nashua would go on to big scores in the Dwyer, Jerome, and Marlboro Cup, over this surface later in the season. Five Star Flight was as impressive as a losing horse could be, and now it would be time to stretch him back out. The Jersey Derby at Atlantic City would be the site for his first major stakes win as he easily handled the two-turn assignment. Left to chase his tail that day were such fine runners as Tap Shoes, Silver Express, and Willow Hour. It was in that race that yours truly, all of 12 years young and watching from the rail, officially fell in love with the bay son of Top Command.
So now the big day had come, it would be the speed of Five Star Flight vs. the closing power of Lord Avie. I went to the races with all the enthusiasm you would expect from a giddy schoolboy. This was my Christmas. Since I was a child prodigy with the Daily Racing Form, my father had instituted a wonderful financial plan for me. In lieu of a more structured allowance, my father would finance a $2 bet for me on every race, each time we went to the races. Some cynics may see this as contributing to the delinquency of a minor…to me it was a wonderful tradition that I will be proud to carry on with my children. On Haskell Day in 1981 I did something different, something I had never done before. As each race went by, my father asked me how I wanted to bet my $2 and each time I said “No, I will wait for Five Star Flight.” Nine races, so the untouched $2 increments had accumulated to $18. I had waited patiently to put it on my favorite horse’s nose. $18 to win for me was about $16 more than my previous biggest wager.
The race finally begun and Craig Perret did a masterful job of harnessing the speed of Five Star Flight. His stamina was not taxed and even as Lord Avie began to roll from the back of the pack of the six-horse affair, it was clear that Five Star Flight was just waiting to sprint home. As Lord Avie easily passed the other runners, Perret let out a notch on Five Star Flight. The juvenile champion, with Jorge Velasquez aboard, would get within about a length-and-a-half of his challenger on the far turn, but that would be it. I was as happy as anyone in attendance, as Five Star Flight steadily drew away from Lord Avie for an easy five length win. My favorite horse had just won New Jersey’s biggest race and my bet returned fifty two dollars… My father had been impressed with my discipline and made the bet an even $20. What a day and what a Haskell!
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Meet Brian Zipse

Brian has been a passionate fan of horse racing his entire life. Taken to the races at a very young age, he has been lucky enough to see all the greats in person from Secretariat, Forego, and Ruffian through Rachel Alexandra, Zenyatta, American Pharoah and Justify. Before coming to the Nation, Brian displayed his love for the sport through the development of his horse racing website, which quickly became one of the most popular blogs in the game. His new racing partnership venture, Derby Day Racing, invites more fans to experience the thrill of racehorse ownership.

The Editor of Horse Racing Nation from 2010-2017, Brian authored a daily column as Zipse at the Track, created the popular racing show, HorseCenter and added his editorial flare to the overall content of the website. Now a Senior Writer for HRN, Brian continues to contribute his thoughts on racing, as well as hosting HorseCenter. A big supporter of thoroughbred aftercare, he serves as the President of The Exceller Fund.

Brian's work has also been published on several leading industry sites. He has consulted for leading contest site Derby Wars, is both a Hall of Fame and NTRA poll voter, and is a Vox Populi committee member. 

A horse owner and graduate of DePaul University, Brian lives just outside of Louisville with his wife Candice and daughter Kendra.

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