Today, the $1 million Haskell Invitational will run at Monmouth Park.
While the Haskell has been a very important 3-year-old stakes race, especially in the past ten years, this running may be even more vital to the year-end Eclipse Awards. With such a wide-open 3-year-old crop, it’s possible to argue for a number of horses to be the current division leader, and with 5 months left in the year, anything could still happen to add more horses to the list of possible 3-year-old champions.
Currently, it looks like Shackleford, the 5-2 morning line favorite for the Haskell, is the front-runner for Eclipse honors this year. However, with Uncle Mo’s return looming on the horizon and a few horses with the possibility of taking big steps forward, Shackleford will need to perform well in today’s race in order to stay near the top.
Shackleford has been a personal favorite of mine since the Kentucky Derby, and I believe he’s the most talented 3-year-old in America, at least at distances from 1 – 1 1/8 miles. I understand that he won the Preakness at 1 3/16 miles, but I don’t believe he truly handled the distance in that race, and think it was more a case of simply being that game.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see him regress slightly after the grueling Triple Crown trail, though according to all I’ve seen and heard he seems to be a horse that thrives on racing and the few weeks he spent at the farm did him good. If he does regress, look out for Pants on Fire, who is coming off a convincing win in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth. Pants on Fire should be stalking what could be a hot pace, with the likes of Coil, Shackleford, Joe Vann and Ruler on Ice all possessing some tactical early foot. That’s not to say that Pants on Fire is slow early on, but he certainly doesn’t have the same kind of speed as Coil and Shackleford, and after Ruler on Ice’s Belmont, I expect him to be near the front as well.
Coil is a very interesting horse to me. Being out of a Theatrical mare, I wouldn’t be totally convinced that dirt is going to be his best game. However, he’s talented, and blinkers are coming off for this start, which could help him improve. I wouldn’t be surprised if he won, but at 3-1 on the morning line, I don’t know if he’s worth betting heavily. He could jump up and win by daylight, but I don’t expect it to happen, and at fairly low odds I would include him in exotics but not rely on him.
Shackleford is the most proven horse in the race and the most talented but if he’s going to lose another race under 10 furlongs this year, it will probably be the Haskell. He’ll be my top selection, but Pants on Fire poses the most danger, and Concealed Identity is the best longshot to include underneath. I don’t think Concealed Identity is nearly as good as these horses, but he will get the right pace to put in his best effort. Whether his best effort puts him on the board remains to be determined.