Shackle No Cinch At Haskell
SHACKLE NO CINCH AT THE HASKELL
The sun-baked Jersey shore turns up the heat another notch today when two Triple Crown classic stars — Shackleford and Ruler On Ice — go at it in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
The only jewel missing from the line-up is Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, who is recovering from a fractured leg.
Today’s race, on ABC from 5-6 p.m., is supposed to shake out the 3-year-old division, the most glamorous in racing, and establish a leader for end-of-year championship honors. Don’t bank on it.
The way this year has played out, anything could happen in the Haskell. Ordinarily, Shackleford — the 5-2 morning-line favorite and one of the fastest, most durable colts in training — would appear a cinch.
A gangbuster winner of the Preakness, gifted with uncommon speed, he has been training as if on fire (two bullet workouts), and favorites like him are a perfect fit for the Haskell. They win at a 46-percent clip.
But this year is different. All the major preps and Triple Crown races (bar the Florida Derby) were won by long shots. Favorites: zero.
Today, no fewer than five of the eight starters are speed maniacs who love to run up or near the lead. That means the Haskell could be a donnybrook from the jump. Who blinks first?
Shackleford is a proven commodity with a rousing second in the Florida Derby, a bold fourth in the Derby, a shock winner of the Preakness and a stubborn fifth in the Belmont. He’s a real trouper but remains fresh as a buttercup.
“His last two works were spectacular,” trainer Dale Romans said.
The other classic winner, Ruler On Ice, looked a fluke winning the Belmont at 24-1, though owners George and Lori Hall bet a bundle on him at the urging of trainer Kelly Breen. Now he must cut back from 11/2 miles to nine furlongs. He needs to beat these top-line horses twice to make us a believer.
His stablemate, Pants On Fire, won the Louisiana Derby, beating good ones like Nehro and Mucho Macho Man, disappointed in the Kentucky Derby when heavily bet to 8-1, then rebounded to win the Pegasus at Monmouth last month. He looks a live candidate.
Then, inevitably, there is Bob Baffert. The old fox has fingerprints all over the Haskell. He has won it a record four times and is 7-of-7 in the money. Always dangerous shipping a horse East, he is doubly dangerous if the horse sports bullet workouts.
His colt today, Coil, is coming off two blistering bullet works over Del Mar’s synthetic track after a last-out second, beaten a head, in the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park.
“He’s going to run a big race, a breakout effort,” Baffert said. “His last work was awesome. But this will be a class test for him.”
Coil will be running on dirt for the first time, and he has drawn the dreaded rail, prompting Baffert to wail, “The fix must be in. He’s drawn on the inside all year. I was hoping for something different.”
Still, the track linemaker Brad Thomas made Coil the second choice at 3-1, ahead of Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire, both at 4-1.
Astrology, powerfully connected to trainer Steve Asmussen and jockey Julien Leparoux, ran a nice third in the Preakness, then inexplicably threw in a clunker in the Iowa Derby, finishing a mile up at the track at 1-2. He could rebound.
The Haskell long shots in order are Concealed Identity at 12-1, Joe Vann at 15-1 and J J’s Lucky Train at 20-1. None looks to have a ghost of a chance.
But that’s what we said about Ruler On Ice, before the Belmont.
by Ray Kerrison
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