Saturday, July 28, 2018

The 2018 Haskell Is Not-So-Good Magic

Enthusiasm about the 2018 Haskell Invitational is in short supply for the NJ Horseplayer camp.

By some accounts, Monmouth Park was working to get Triple Crown champion Justify to Oceanport for this year's $1 million Grade 1 showcase. Yet the horse's ailments were such that he's been retired from racing and will go to stud.

That leaves Good Magic as Sunday's headliner, where the winner gets not only a handsome payday but also an entry into the 2018 running of the Breeders' Cup Classic Championship in November.

NJ Horseplayer states a case for
Lone Sailor to win the 2018 Haskell
The two-year-old champion in 2017, Good Magic -- a $1 million 2016 Keeneland September sale purchase and trained by Chad Brown -- is the 6-to-5 morning-line favorite, and deservedly so against a field that's middling at best.

Since teaming up with New York-based jockey Jose Ortiz, Good Magic won the aforementioned Breeders' Cup Juvenile and Grade 2 Bluegrass Stakes in April, after which he ran a game second to Justify in the Kentucky Derby. 

Beyond that is where I have some concerns, and explain why I'm looking elsewhere for a winner.

Perhaps against better judgement, my selection to win the 2018 Haskell Invitational is Lone Sailor, and I'm going to play him above Bravazo, Core Beliefs and Good Magic in "exotic" wagers -- exacta, trifecta and superfecta. 

The other three entrants -- Navy Commander, Roaming Union and Golden Brown are entirely unplayable, in my opinion, making it hard to find "value" in the race.

However, after a brief rundown on each horse, I'll provide some ideas for how to put your bankroll to work, as a few people have asked for suggestions on this race. Personally, I'll have a hard time pulling the trigger on a win bet on horses that will pay $6-$10 at best, though on a scale of one to 10 my conviction in Lone Sailor is probably a four or five. 

With that said, here's the field for the 2018 Haskell Invitational.

#1, Lone Sailor (5-1): I typically wouldn't scoff at a horse that'll pay about $12 to win on a $2 mutuel, but there are two sides to this horse's equation. Handicappers probably will either love or hate this one, and rightly so. Lone Sailor has banked almost $500,000 already, all while winning only once in 11 tries, beating eight others by 11 lengths at Saratoga last September in his second-ever start. 

A 2-year-old win at Saratoga is usually encouraging, but in nine races since he's finished second four times -- by margins of a nose, neck, head and a length-and-a-quarter. There's a lot of close but no cigar with this runner. The Ohio Derby, a Grade 3 race (two cuts below the Haskell), is a shining example, where he took the lead late in the stretch and somehow still lost. 

Pace will be key in the Haskell, however, and will be to Lone Sailor's advantage, and is therefore my selection to win the 2018 Haskell. The way I see the race shaking out, Lone Sailor's going to be wrangled back to last out of the gate by Joe Bravo, who'll try to save ground and energy to make a late charge when all of the early runners begin to fade and fall back to the pack. Past performances suggest that Lone Sailor's best running occurs when there's pace in the race. If you don't watch much racing, listen for the quarter-mile times that track announcer Frank Mirahmadi gives out as the race proceeds. Anything around 23 seconds for the first quarter mile and 46-47 seconds for the half would be favorable for Lone Sailor. A slower pace would be a detriment, IMHO, especially if a freshened and likely superior Good Magic gets toward the front in a slow time.

#2, Navy Commander (12-1): I just don't see it. Two races back, this Robert Reid trainee won an extremely low-level race at PARX when the jockey on a horse about to pass him fell off the horse in the late-stretch when bumped hard. Navy Commander came back the next time to win the $100,000 Long Branch Stakes on July 7 at Monmouth, but that's worlds from facing a Justify. Jockey Angel Arroyo's going to place this one forwardly, but I can't see him being in the thick of things for anything beyond three-quarters of a mile. Pass. 

#3, Roaming Union (10-1): I respect Monmouth Park's top trainer, Kelly Breen, a great deal, but for my money this horse is also in over his head. Roaming Union blew an enormous lead in the stretch in his Haskell prep -- the $100,000 Pegasus Stakes, which might explain why Albin Jiminez gets the mount on Sunday. Maybe he finds the lead for about a half a mile, but there are just to many flat performances in his past to consider at the Grade 1 level. Pass. 

#4, Core Beliefs (4-1): I probably watch the California circuit more than others, and Peter Eurton's a solid trainer who doesn't seem to ship his horses out of state a ton. So it's either a really bullish signal that he's got an up-and-coming three-year-old; or is being opportunistic, figuring you don't need to be Justify to beat this field and get a Grade 1 victory. 

I considered making him my top pick, but didn't for a reason -- jockey change. Whereas Lone Sailor picks up a veteran who knows the Monmouth Park oval like the back of his hand, Eurton's using Flavien Prat on Core Beliefs. I love Prat, perhaps THE finest turf jockey in North America. Yet I have some questions here, as to me it's a major change switching away from a rider who carried Core Beliefs to a win in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby last month. Let's be clear, too, that the field in that one wasn't very good. I think Core Beliefs tracks Roaming Union halfway around the track, inherits the lead from Roaming Union, but then gets passed later in the stretch by Lone Sailor and/or the next horse I'm about to discuss. Second place is the ceiling.

#5, Bravazo (3-1) is the lone horse in the field who ran in all three Triple Crown races, which comes as no surprise as wily Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lucas never shies from a challenge. His gangbusters late-stretch run to finish second to Justify in the Preakness proved his ability, and earlier in 2018 he won the Grade 2 Risen Star Stakes in Louisiana. Yet he's thrown in clunkers -- a badly beaten (and perhaps tired) sixth in the Belmont, eighth beaten by 21 lengths in the Louisiana Derby, and tenth beaten 12 lengths in the Kentucky Juvenile in late 2017. It's just hard to figure this one, and I think the morning line is too low. For my money, Core Beliefs is a better value at 4-1 by comparison, though it wouldn't entirely surprise me if Bravazo wins. Jockey Luis Saez continues to mature, and I think he's one of the better ones in the U.S. with horses toward the lead. The "race within the race" worth watching will be whether Saez or Prat aboard Core Beliefs is just off the front-runner (Roaming Union or Golden Brown). If Saez is sitting second just off the lead coming into the homestretch, then look out. A lackluster start would be his undoing, which is why, for my money, I'll use him exclusively second through fourth in wagering. 

#6, Good Magic (6-5): I'm sorta playing with fire going against the Kentucky Derby runner-up, and perhaps he was just gassed late in the Preakness, but I'll boldly predict that this horse has seen his better days as a three-year-old. Good Magic had every opportunity and the perfect setup to beat Justify in a slowly run Preakness but wilted when looked in the eye and was passed late by Bravazo and Tenfold. Now, you can say that Tenfold's win in Saturday's Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga validates Good Magic by way of company lines, but that horse staggered to the wire and won as a disinterested Vino Rosso decided to not run hard until the last 200 yards. Would I be surprised if Good Magic wins on Sunday? Absolutely not. But I think he's vulnerable and will go off closer to 4-to-5 odds. I'm using him third and fourth on my tickets and is the one you need to beat if you want to make any half-decent money betting this race as a single. 

#7, Golden Brown (15-1): This guy's the longest shot in the field for a reason, with speed figures well below the major contenders and his best running in a lower-level turf stakes win at Delaware Park just two weeks ago and against NJ-bred competition. Pass.

Wagering Strategy

I'm not going to break the bank for the Haskell (probably $40-$50), nor do I have overly creative strategies. The tickets presented below may go beyond readers' price points, but remember that the base wager on an exacta is $1, and even lower (50 cents) for trifectas. It's 10 cents for the superfecta (picking the four top finishers in order), so you can scale back the denominations of mine and still be involved in the action at a low cost.  I'll use Lone Sailor at the top of exacta and trifecta tickets and figure to make a decent profit if it's not Good Magic's day. 

$10 Exacta: 1-5 (Lone Sailor over Bravazo) = $10
  • You can bet this as a $1 "exacta box" for a $2 outlay
  • You'd win half the posted $2 payout if the order of finish is 1-5 or 5-1. 
$5 Exacta: 5-1 (Bravazo over Lone Sailor) = $5
  • A bit of a hedge in the event that Lone Sailor again gets "second-itis"
$5 Trifecta: 1 over 4, 5 over 4, 5, 6 = $20
  • You can bet this as a $1 trifecta for a $2 outlay
  • For $18, you can also play this as a $1 "trifecta key box" using 1, 4, 5 and 6; you'd win if any of these three finish first, second and third. Ask a teller if it's available as a 50-cent base wager, in which case it's only a $9 outlay. 
$2 Trifecta: 4, 5 over 1 over 4, 5, 6 = $8
  • Another hedge if Lone Sailor is the runner-up

$1 Superfecta: 1 over 4, 5 over 4, 5, 6 over 4, 5, 6 = $4

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