Saturday's turn of events doesn't surprise me one bit, in that Monmouth had a few days to follow the lead of Saratoga and three other Mid-Atlantic peers and reschedule and/or run an abbreviated morning or twilight program, and instead doubled-down on an awful hand, insistent on running a 14-race card in a 110-degree-plus heat index.
The error wasn't so much because of the heat itself, but because selling out to NBC to broadcast on a Saturday instead of the usual Sunday was not only going to hurt attendance and handle. It also put it into an enormous safety spotlight in the wake of 30 racing fatalities at Santa Anita Park during the spring meet. Others that I respect also tweeted for days that Monmouth should have postponed.
Rather, it only drew more negative attention and turned off paying customers after events in California sullied the sport. Santa Anita's ownership group has basically done everything in its power to sabotage the racing product to be able to cash in on the extremely valuable land. It's my opinion their concern about safety is halfhearted at best.
So in that context, a venue like Monmouth Park had decisions to make, and made the wrong ones and further dented its credibility by insisting on full steam ahead. Now, you've got annoyed patrons, unwanted attention and tons of questions about what the heck's going on there.
Anyway, enough of that. With the adjusted 8:05 p.m. scheduled post time for the Haskell, I had a little more time to dig into handicapping the race, assuming it still goes off as planned. If you're still planning on playing the race, or can use the delay as an opportunity to catch out what could be a decent twilight all-stakes card of 5 races, here's a little info on the 7-horse Haskell.
I'll rate them in my order of preference, from best to worst.
#6, Everfast (10-1): I get that this guy's 1-for-12 lifetime, and this isn't a pound-the-table call, but a repeat of his Preakness runner-up finish will be good enough to beat a blazing field where you can poke holes in each of the front-runners. The Pat Day Mile on May 4 will prove to be a key 3-year-old race. Winner Mr. Money would have been my bet-the-house pick if entered in the Haskell, but instead he went and romped in the Grade 3 Indiana Derby last Saturday night (hint to Monmouth Park and the Oceanport town council). Runner-up Hog Creek Hustle impressed in winning the Woody Stephens on June 8 at 18-to-1. Everfast finished fifth in the Pat Day, but I sense was more forwardly-placed than preferred in a one-turn race that's shorter than the Haskell, and should relish both the added distance and fast fractions. I like the rider switch to the patient Julien Leparoux. Everfast will be prominent on my tickets and is my selection to win the 2019 Haskell Invitational, rolling late.
#7, Maximum Security (8-5): I really wanted to back this guy as my top choice, and he could very well be the best in the field and win, but I'm worried that he could struggle if he doesn't get the lead position through the first turn. Max has a win from off the pace, but that was in a sprint on the mud in his second lifetime start against way softer company. Like most of the other fast starters today, it's unclear whether he'd take to sitting mid-pack, say, and getting dirt kicked in his face. I'm more inclined to think he's got to be able to withstand 22, 45 and 1:09-type fractions through the first three quarters of the race plus outlast everyone to the wire. Trip-wise I think he'll be right there to see who's first to the finish line, but he'll fade a bit late and get passed by a closing Everfast. I'll use him in the win spot on some tickets, but otherwise underneath in the second and third spots at worst.
#1, King for a Day (5-2): The slipper's on the other foot for the King this time, breaking from the rail draw that's unfavorable today with so many front-runners in the race. His win in the Pegasus vs. Maximum Security was legit, though he caught a horse who almost tossed the jockey at the start, and still had to gut it out to win. It'll be interesting to see whether jockey John Velazquez sits chilly from the gate and reserves energy for a later, closing-type run or engages the early speed. I'm not worried about him getting the jump on #2 Joevia early on, but rather getting pinned in by two horses with no chance of winning -- #3 Spun to Run and #4 Bethlehem Road. Switch posts with Max and I may give the nod here, but drawn inside, I sense it's either speed-and-fade and hold on for a minor award, or a mid-pack effort where he passes the faders. Using second through fourth, just not in the win spot.
#5, Mucho Gusto (2-1): Alright, he's going to be the post-time favorite, and I get that Bob Baffert has won more Haskell titles and eaten more at Max's Hot Dogs than me, but I went back and watched the Sunland Derby as it was the one two-turn race where Mucho Gusto faced fast fractions. In that prep for the Kentucky Derby, he broke sharply and cleanly from the inside post, rode the rail around and started to wilt after putting up a 1:09.3 for three-quarters. In my opinion, his two wins coming into the Haskell (both Grade 3 races in California) look stylish on paper, but were in comfortable fractions that he won't see here. Tactically I see him trying to get the jump on Maximum Security, which could happen. I just have questions about stamina as two of his two losses were both at a mile-plus. I'm not as high as a win prospect here, but will use defensively in the exacta, trifecta and multi-race exotics.
#3, Spun to Run (15-1): There's a lot to dislike, including a 4-month layoff, first-time blinkers and climbing a half-dozen rungs up the class later into Grade 1 stakes competition. Yet local jockey Paco Lopez can be an asset, knowing how to ride this course. Fourth-place ceiling.
#1, Joevia (10-1): Alright, alright. I shouldn't knock the third-place finisher from the Belmont Stakes, but he got the easiest of trips -- slow fractions, unchallenged, rode the rail all the way around -- and still couldn't close the deal. Past performances reflect he's generally always near the lead, but in my opinion those were underwhelming slow races, and I could see him bouncing badly off the Belmont and therefore will leave him off my tickets.
#4, Bethlehem Road (20-1): Sorry, can't consider a credible play off a 23-length loss in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby in a six-horse field. We'll hear his name for about half the race before he fades into obscurity and returns to races at Parx where he belongs. Pass.