John Piesen: Wet and Wild
WET AND WILD
By John Piesen
The weather gods are predicting serious thunderstorms for the Jersey shore on Sunday, and if they are right, a wet track will only confuse things even more in the Haskell, which already is one of the most difficult stakes races of the season to handicap.
Of the nine horses ready to run in the Haskell, a $1 million race for 3-year-olds at 10 furlongs over the speed-favoring Monmouth Park track, only one—Irish You Well—has so much as raced over a wet track, and that was a remote third in the slop in the Peter Pan at Belmont Park.
Irish You Well exits a victory at 5-1 in the ungraded Long Branch Stakes over the track as a John Piesen Hot Line 1-888-612-2283 special (and also at www.johnpiesen.com), but he looks outclassed—wet or dry—against the Grade One stock he'll be facing in the Haskell.
That said, what a story it would make if Irish You Well wins the Haskell because his trainer, Wayne Catalano, one of racing's good guys, currently is hospitalized in Chicago with acute pneumonia.
Meantime, Bob Baffert doesn't make the trip to the Jersey Shore anymore since his heart attack, but the fact is that Bullet Bob has won six Haskells, all with West Coast shippers naturally, and he's seriously shooting for a seventh with Bayern.
With Gary Stevens sidelined awaiting knee replacement surgery, Baffert calls on Martin Garcia to ride Bayern, who has yet to win beyond a mile, a fact that
concerns Baffert. But Bayern was brilliant wiring the seven-furlong Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard, and he will be the main speed from the favorable two-hole in the Haskell.
The Arabs purchased Bayern for 300K at a yearling sale and named the Office Wild colt for the famed European soccer club.
And you'll never guess who the underbidder was. Alright, time's up. It was New York radio sports host and small-time horse owner Mike Francesa.
If the opposing riders permit Bayern an easy lead (it happens all the time), that would be the ballgame. If not, then it's anyone's race.
The public will make super filly Untapable the favorite from the seven-hole with Rosie Napravnik, a Jersey girl who will be looking for her first win in the
Haskell, annually the biggest race in her native state.
Trainer Steve Asmussen, won the Haskell in 2009 with Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, one of only two fillies to do so, and Super Steve opts to run Untapable against the boys for the first time rather than run her as a sure thing in last Sunday's Coaching Club at Saratoga.
Of course the purse is twice as much, and that represents a lot of pastry for her owners, who make a very nice living selling donuts.
Untapable has already wrapped up the Eclipse Award in a weak 3-year-old filly division, and if she wins the Haskell, she becomes a bonafide candidtate for Horse of the Year.
Of course she'll have no shot if Wise Dan wins the Breeders' Cup Mile.
Untapable, six-for-six outside California, has won her last four starts, all graded stakes, by a combined 27 lengths, and, with her sex allowance, gets in the Haskell with a feathery 115 pounds.
But of course those wins were against fillies. The Haskell will be a lot tougher, and I may be a bit nuts, but I'm going to try to beat her.
One candidate to do so is Albano, who was very sharp winning the Pegasus by six-plus lengths over the track. He looked like Damascus going from six down to six up leaving the three-eighths pole. I know he was beating a bunch of manes and tails in that Grade 3, but Albano seems like a horse on the improve, and he'll be a factor under regular rider Kerwin Clark from the three-hole.
If Albano does win, it too would be a remarkable story since trainer Jones has made it all the way back after sustaining life-threatening injuries in a morning spill at Delaware Park back in April.
There was a time when Napravnik was Larry's go-to rider (she won the Kentucky Oaks for him), but, as often happens, she's on the other side in the Haskell. But they remain buds.
On Saturday, Rosie will ride Coup de Grace for Jones in the Grade 3 Amsterdam at Saratoga. Coup will need to go from last to first at six and a half furlongs, but that has been the norm at the Spa this summer.
Back to the Haskell.
What to do with Social Inclusion?
Unraced at two, SI started his career with two blowout wins at Gulfstream Park, beating, among others, Honor Code, who at the time was the favorite for the
Kentucky Derby. Since then he has been third three times, including twice as the 8-5 favorite in the Wood Memorial and (to Bayern) in the Woody Stephens.
Social Inclusion has been training lights out at Gulf, and gets first-time Edgar Prado from post six. Leave him out of the gimmicks at your own risk.
Wildcat Red was competitive with the best 3-year-olds in Florida, and exits a blowout win against cheaper. He'll be in the mix with Luis Saez, who
has developed into a first-class big-race whippersnapper.
Most of the Haskell contenders want the lead. The exception is Medal Count, who comes off a troubled closing third in the Belmont. The Dale Romans colt
will be closing widest and fastest under Robby Albarado.
Man, it's a tough race to figure...and that much tougher on a wet track.
For some reason, the Haskell and Jim Dandy, drawing from the same pool of 3-year-olds, are run on the same weekend, and this year is no exception. The 600K Jim Dandy, also at 10 furlongs, goes Saturday at the Spa, and Belmont winner Tonalist will be favored under Joel Rosario from the four-hole in a field of seven.
No doubt Rosario will put Tonalist on the lead in a field that lacks early speed and defy them to catch him.
Despite the nice purse, most horsemen use the Jim Dandy basically as a prep for the Travers on Aug. 23, and sure enough, six of the last Travers winners have come out of the Jim Dandy.
That said, Wicked Strong, with blinkers on, looks awfully good in the Jim Dandy, but can he catch Tonalist after a wide trip from the seven-hole?
It's worth a look.
Also worth a look is Starstruck in the 150K Matchmaker, one of six stakes on the Haskell card. Owned by Calumet and trained by Larry Jones, Starstruck was a runaway winner of this race last year, and has had some major traffic problems in six subsequent losses.
Starstruck should work out a trip under Clark in this year's renewal...but all bets are off if the race somes off the grass.
Thanks for tuning in, check out the JP Hot Line, how 'bout those Buccos, and hope to see you back here next Friday.
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