In a quality 6-horse field that trumps the overall competitiveness of 2015's coronation of American Pharoah, one could make a case for all of Sunday's competitors for top prize in a race that caps back-to-back days of 3-year-old showcases; yesterday, maiden Laoban won the Jim Dandy at 27-to-1 over the likes of Belmont winner Creator and top-shelf horses Destin, Mohaymen and Governor Malibu, and so the division appears wide open.
Unfortunately I'll be watching from home -- not because of wimpiness over getting wet but because my son's got the nastiest of stomach viruses now on day 3 -- but Exaggerator is my selection, and I think I can get 3-to-1.
- Nyquist (6-5): Freshened after a very game and presumably taxing Preakness, where he finished third off a two-week turnaround from winning the Kentucky Derby. The questions become whether he takes to the off going as in the Grade 1 Florida Derby, where he won in a wire-to-wire fashion on a damp track, or if Mario figures he's just got the best horse and is willing to cede the early lead to another pacesetter and stalk the leaders.
- Sunny Ridge (20-1): Owned by Monmouth Park executive Dennis Drazin and a horse that I loved at the National Handicapping Championship in late January but who has not raced since a lackluster fourth in the Gotham Stakes in early March at Aqueduct. I would have given this horse serious consideration if he had a race to prep for the Haskell, but even the long-shot player in me sees Sunny Ridge as merely an outlier, even considering an extremely game second-place finish to Exaggerator in a wet Delta Jackpot in late-2015.
- Awesome Slew (15-1): A horse with top local connections but who was merely so-so in two Grade 3 races and should be the longest shot on the board but will be an underlay (currently 11-to-1 on Public Handicapper) because of the bettors' respect for jockey Paco Lopez. I project that Paco will roll the dice and gun for the lead, considering that this horse's two wins were sprints, but figure he'll maybe last for three-quarters before fading to last.
- Gun Runner (4-1): The "in" selection for about half of the public handicappers that I follow, but I see risk in the current 2-to-1 odds on Public Handicapper and would use this horse under Exaggerator and American Freedom in trifectas and superfectas. Also, his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby is a bit overplayed, in my view, and I just think he'll get squeezed by the competitors to either side, then be left with much ground to make up late.
- American Freedom (3-1): Haskell killer Bob Baffert trains an upstart here who I think has a legitimate chance to win at an overlay. American Freedom is a late bloomer who did not make his debut until April, but has two lower-level stakes wins already, including a really gutsy win in the Sir Barton Stakes (see below) that signals his courage could be an asset in the Haskell.
- Exaggerator (5-2): Expect this one to come rolling late and win at a decent price. On a dry track, I might have had a different opinion, but for my money the wet going is a huge plus.