Using history to handicap the 2020 Haskell Invitational

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Mark your calendars! The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on Saturday, July 18 with the $1 million Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park, a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the prestigious Grade 1 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic.

Watch the Haskell on Saturday, July 18 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

There’s much more at stake than a guaranteed starting berth in the Breeders’ Cup. With the postponement of the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve until Sept. 5 due to COVID-19, the Haskell is now an important stop on the Road to the Kentucky Derby, awarding Derby qualification points to the top four finishers on a 100-40-20-10 basis.

Which horses figure to battle for victory in this lucrative 1 1/8-mile prize? Reviewing the recent history of the Haskell can help you solve the riddle by unearthing recurring trends and tendencies common among previous winners.

So what are we waiting for? Let’s dig into the data, come up with some selections, and start counting down the hours until post time:

Bet on speed, but keep an eye on how the track is playing

Generally speaking, it pays to favor speed horses in the Haskell. Like in many North American dirt races, horses with tactical speed tend to have an advantage in the Haskell, with seven of the last 10 winners parlaying front-running, pressing, or stalking tactics into victory.

But under the right circumstances, late runners can also be successful. Since 2010, three Haskell winners have managed to rally from dead last to reach the winner’s circle, so while it never hurts to favor speed horses, talented closers aren’t completely out of the mix at Monmouth Park.

How can you gauge which running style will have the best chance to succeed on any given day? It’s helpful to watch the earlier races on Haskell Day to see how the track is playing. A fast track producing quick times can favor speed horses racing on the rail (as was the case in 2014), while a dull surface generating slow times (which was evident in 2017) can present a tiring rail that shifts the advantage to horses racing on the outside – usually late runners.

Year Winner Position after first 1/2-mile 1/2-mile & 3/4-mile (track condition)
2019 Maximum Security 3rd by 0.5 lengths (6 starters) 46.71, 1:10.17 (fast)
2018 Good Magic 2nd by 2.5 lengths (7 starters) 46.83, 1:11.48 (fast)
2017 Girvin 7th by 6.25 lengths (7 starters) 47.34, 1:11.25 (fast)
2016 Exaggerator 6th by 4.75 lengths (6 starters) 46.62, 1:11.00 (sloppy, sealed)
2015 American Pharoah 2nd by 1 length (7 starters) 46.14, 1:09.60 (fast)
2014 Bayern 1st by 0.5 lengths (9 starters) 47.66, 1:11.16 (fast)
2013 Verrazano 2nd by 0.5 lengths (7 starters 48.22, 1:12.43 (fast)
2012 Paynter 3rd by 0.5 lengths (6 starters) 48.01, 1:11.37 (fast)
2011 Coil 8th by 5.5 lengths (8 starters) 47.02, 1:10.68 (fast)
2010 Lookin At Lucky 4th by 2 lengths (7 starters) 47.95, 1:12.51 (fast)

Count on Bob Baffert to finish in the exacta

Trainer Bob Baffert seems to have figured out the formula for winning the Haskell Invitational. The Hall of Fame conditioner has claimed the race eight times, setting a record unlikely to be broken anytime soon. Even when Baffert’s runners fail to reach the winner’s circle, they’re usually involved in the fight to the finish line.

Actually, to say they’re “usually” involved is incorrect. It’s more accurate to say they’re “always” involved. Since 2000, Baffert has saddled a dozen horses in the Haskell, and the results have been extraordinary – eight winners and four runners-up, including five winners between 2010 and 2015. To put it another way, all 12 of Baffert’s runners finished first or second.

But it’s worth noting Baffert’s Haskell horses tend to fall into two distinct categories. Six of his eight winners had previously competed in a Triple Crown race, while three of his four runners-up did not. This brings us to our next point:

Favor veterans of the Triple Crown

In a normal year, it pays to favor runners who competed in the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and/or Belmont Stakes, the three legs of the Triple Crown. No fewer than 13 of the last 14 Haskell winners (and 25 of the last 29) had previously contested at least one leg of the Triple Crown.

There’s a strong chance this trend will be uprooted in 2020 since the Kentucky Derby and Preakness have been postponed until after the Haskell, leaving the Belmont Stakes as the only Triple Crown steppingstone toward Monmouth’s signature race. On the other hand, perhaps this will simply strengthen the Belmont’s position as a key prep for the Haskell.

Respect favorites and be wary of longshots

Longshot winners are an infrequent occurrence in the Haskell Invitational. Eight of the last 12 winners started as the favorite (a 67% success rate), while three other Haskell winners started as the second betting choice at odds no higher than 9-2.

But wait, it gets crazier. Only one Haskell winner has started at higher than 9-2 since 1992, and that lone winner – the accomplished Girvin – didn’t exactly shock the world when he prevailed at 9.20-1 in 2017. The battles for second and third place have been similarly predictable; of the 36 horses to finish in the Haskell trifecta over the last 12 years, 30 of them (83%) started at single-digit odds.

Favor horses with stamina-oriented pedigrees

Sprinters don’t typically sire Haskell winners – that much can be determined from even a brief glance at the pedigrees of recent Haskell champions. The Haskell is practically a fourth leg of the Triple Crown, and horses with classic breeding tend to dominate the 1 1/8-mile race.

Case in point? Seven of the last 10 Haskell winners were sired by a stallion who competed in a Triple Crown race. Furthermore, the three sires who defied this trend (Smart Strike, Awesome Again, and New Year’s Day) were Grade 1 winners running 1 1/16 miles or farther. Talent and stamina are genetic qualities passed down from generation to generation, and if a horse is going to vie for victory in the Haskell, it helps to have a pedigree geared toward success in the classics.

Conclusions

Bob Baffert will saddle the possible Haskell favorite in Authentic, winner of the Sham Stakes and San Felipe Stakes during the winter at Santa Anita Park. Fresh off a runner-up effort in the Runhappy Santa Anita Derby, Authentic has tactical speed and figures to be involved from the outset, but he didn’t compete in the Belmont Stakes and is a son of sprinter/miler Into Mischief. From a historical perspective, Authentic appears more likely to round out the Haskell exacta than reach the winner’s circle.

Dr Post is an appealing alternative. While his sire, Quality Road, missed the Triple Crown races with an injury, he won multiple Grade 1 races up to 1 1/8 miles in distance, demonstrating his stamina against high-class competition. Three-time Haskell-winning trainer Todd Pletcher conditioned Quality Road and likewise trains Dr Post, who rallied from mid-pack to finish second in the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets. This strong effort in a Triple Crown race has stamped Dr Post as a near-perfect match for the typical profile of a Haskell winner, so if Authentic falters in the battle to the finish line, Dr Post can steal the show.

Watch the Haskell on Saturday, July 18 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.