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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.

Searching for a score in the 2020 Stephen Foster

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The Grade 2, $500,000 Stephen Foster Stakes brings together a field of eight quality horses in the Breeders’ Cup Classic division, each hoping to earn an automatic spot into the gate for the Nov. 7 running of the race at Keeneland, just 72 miles down the road from Churchill Downs. Leading the field in terms of accomplishments is Tom’s d’Etat, winner of the Grade 1 Clark Stakes presented by Norton Healthcare, the fall version of the Stephen Foster. Since the Clark, Tom’s d’Etat won the Oaklawn Mile Stakes in his only start of 2020 and although third in last year’s Foster he is the one to beat on paper. Owendale is among many who have top stakes credentials, having won the Blame Stakes at Churchill Downs last month after finishing second to Tom’s d’Etat in the Clark last fall.

NBC Sports will broadcast theStephen Foster as part of the “Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series: Win and You’re In” schedule. Watch the Fleur de Lis Stakes and the Stephen Foster Stakes from Churchill Downs on Saturday, June 27 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Another strong contender is By My Standards, who has a perfect 3-for-3 record this year including the Grade 2 Oaklawn Handicap last month in his most recent race. Silver Dust is no slouch either, having led late in the Blame Stakes last month and coming up a neck short in the Grade 2 Lukas Classic Stakes last summer at this nine-furlong distance while crossing the wire first in the Grade 3 Mineshaft Stakes and Grade 3 Louisiana Stakes in between. Pirate’s Punch finished third in the Mineshaft, as well as third in the Grade 3 Super Derby last summer and may have an edge in the pace department as the only horse who likes to lead early in the race. Multiplier won the Grade 3 Illinois Derby in 2017 at the distance of the Stephen Foster and proved he belongs with these when coming up a neck short in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Handicap in March. Fearless makes his stakes debut off an eye-catching rally from last of 11 to win an allowance race last month at Churchill Downs. Alkhaatam rounds out the field, having won his last two dirt starts, noting however he finished 11th of 12 in last year’s Foster.

Although there’s no doubt Tom’s d’Etat leads the field in terms of having earned field-high 116 and 118 Equibase Speed Figures in similar races, Pirate’s Punch may have a significant edge in terms of early speed that could help him to post the upset. Winner of four races from 14 starts, Pirate’s Punch was most impressive in two of his last four efforts when winning by five and by 11 ½ lengths, respectively. In both cases, Pirate’s Punch established the lead and got very brave to be well in front when the field turned for home, giving no horse a chance to make up any ground. It may also be that Pirate’s Punch can take back and sit off the pace as well. This is evidenced by his last effort where he rallied from fifth to get within a neck of the leader with an eighth of a mile to go, before being outfinished but only beaten a half-length and a neck for the win. Getting the No. 2 post position in the Foster, as well as the services of Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith, I believe the tactic will be to go for the lead from the start, especially since the only horse inside of Pirate’s Punch in the gate (Fearless) usually drops back and closes from far back. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind Pirate’s Punch has the breeding to win this Grade 2 race and to run well at a mile and an eighth. Using STATS Race Lens to look at the history of other foals of the dam, I note both were exceptional, with combined earnings of $2.1 million. One of those was Girvin, winner of the 2017 Grade 1 Haskell Invitational Stakes. As such, I’ll take Pirate’s Punch to get the lead from the opening of the gate and never look back in this year’s Stephen Foster Stakes.

Tom’s d’Etat doesn’t need much talking up, if any, in terms of being a strong contender to win this race. Winner of 10 races from 16 dirt starts, Tom’s d’Etat proved himself last summer at the distance when winning the Alydar Stakes at Saratoga with a career-best 118 figure.  Two races later, Tom’s d’Etat duplicated the feat with a victory in the Grade 3 Fayette Stakes at the same distance, earning a 116 figure. Winning the Clark Stakes in November at Churchill Downs with a 113 figure led to a 4 ½ month layoff. Returning as if he had never been away, Tom’s d’Etat earned a 113 figure winning the Oaklawn Mile Stakes in April. Having proven capable of winning off a layoff, there’s no problem with the 2 ½ months off since his last race and as he’s won five of eight races at the distance including three of his last four, there is nothing to knock about this talented horse. Although he rallied from sixth and eighth, respectively, in his last two races, Tom’s d’Etat raced closer up in second in the early stages of the Fayette Stakes so it is entirely possible Pirate’s Punch will not get the easy early lead I envision, and in that case it’s very likely Tom’s d’Etat will earn his 11th career win in this race.

By My Standards has really blossomed as a 4-year-old, winning in his 2020 debut by six lengths then taking two straight graded stakes. Winner of the Louisiana Derby at the distance of the Foster last March as a 3-year-old, By My Standards had already proven to be one of the top of his class, but after a poor 12th-place effort in the Kentucky Derby the colt went on the sidelines. Given time to mature, he did just that with a win around two turns off a nine-month layoff with a 102 figure, then two races later he earned a career-best 106 figure in the Oaklawn Handicap at this mile and one-eighth distance. Showing he’s fit as a fiddle with a half-mile workout one week ago that was the 11th-best of 113 on the day and with it likely he has improving to do, By My Standards could really put his mark on the division with a win in this race and by doing so, stamp his name as one of the horses to strongly consider this fall in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.

I could make the case for any of the other five entrants in this race as their best efforts could be good enough to win. These horses, and their best Equibase Speed Figures, are Alkhaatam (105), Fearless (99), Multiplier (109), Owendale (108), and Silver Dust (114).

Win Contenders:

Pirate’s Punch

Tom’s d’Etat

By My Standards

Watch the Fleur de Lis Stakes and the Stephen Foster Stakes from Churchill Downs on Saturday, June 27 from 5 to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.

Mapping out a trifecta play for the Jaipur Stakes

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The Belmont Stakes isn’t the only major horse race taking place on Saturday at Belmont Park. Five other prestigious stakes races are on the agenda, including the $250,000, Grade 1 Jaipur Stakes Presented by America’s Best Racing, which serves as a “Win and You’re In” qualifier for the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint at Keeneland on Nov. 7.

Held at just three-quarters of a mile, the Jaipur is a test of speed on a blazingly fast turf course conducive to producing fast times. The Jaipur runs on Saturday, June 20 as an undercard to the Belmont Stakes.

NBC is home to the 152nd Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 20, providing comprehensive race coverage and analysis live on TV and NBCSports.com before, during and after the main event. Coverage runs from 2:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. on NBC, just hours after NBC’s coverage of the final day of the Royal Ascot in England. Stream the 2020 Belmont Stakes here.

Three years ago, the talented Disco Partner won the Jaipur in the remarkable time of 1:05.67, setting a North American record.

But three-quarters of a mile is an unfamiliar ballgame for many turf sprinters. Most of the division’s biggest races are held at shorter distances, and running an extra sixteenth of a mile or two can make a big difference for pure speedsters accustomed to running virtually all-out from start to finish. Negotiating three-quarters of a mile requires a bit of nuance and pacing, as well as a subtle dose of stamina.

This could be a critical factor affecting the chances of #4 Pure Sensation, a 9-year-old veteran who has cracked the top three in 11 of his 13 races dating back to September 2017. The two exceptions were solid fifth-place efforts against tough competition in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint, and all told Pure Sensation has won 11 stakes races during his decorated career.

The Jaipur has been a summer target on Pure Sensation’s agenda three times in the past, and he actually nabbed first prize in 2016, holding off none other than Disco Partner to win by a neck in 1:06.76. But these days, Pure Sensation seems better running shorter — he hasn’t won a race longer than five-eighths of a mile since October 2016. In his last run at the Jaipur distance, Pure Sensation carved out the pace in the 2018 Belmont Turf Sprint Stakes, only to weaken in the final eighth of a mile and finish a distant third behind Disco Partner.

There isn’t much speed in the 2020 Jaipur field, so perhaps Pure Sensation can shake loose on an easy lead and stretch his speed farther than usual. But returning from a 7 1/2-month layoff is also a question mark, considering Pure Sensation is getting older and trainer Christophe Clement wins at just a 14% rate with horses returning from extended breaks.

If you’re searching for a runner who figures to thrive at the Jaipur distance, look no further than the lone female in the field, #2 Oleksandra. The 6-year-old mare by 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom is 2-for-3 sprinting three-quarters of a mile, with both victories coming on the Belmont Park turf course. Just as importantly, Oleksandra has proven herself against a high level of competition, rallying to win the 2019 Grade 3 Buffalo Trace Franklin County Stakes by two lengths over the classy stakes winners Morticia and Girls Know Best.

Oleksandra kicked off her 2020 campaign with a gallant runner-up effort in the Grade 2 Monrovia Stakes at Santa Anita, where she gained six lengths in the final eighth of a mile to fall just short of catching Brazilian Group 1 winner and heavy favorite Jolie Olimpica. Oleksandra figures to show improvement in her second start of the season, and stretching out to three-quarters of a mile should give this classy mare a little more time to unfurl her powerful closing strides.

The wildcard in the Jaipur field is #6 Hidden Scroll, who has shown flashes of brilliance while racing on dirt for Hall of Fame trainer Bill Mott. After finishing off the board in the Grade 3 Count Fleet Sprint Handicap, the 4-year-old Hard Spun colt attempted to give turf a try in a one-mile allowance-optional claiming race at Belmont. Unfortunately, Hidden Scroll stumbled severely at the start and unseated his rider before running off and completing the race for his own amusement.

Granted, Hidden Scroll was unencumbered by a jockey, but he seemed to handle grass just fine while sprinting to a commanding “early lead.” He’s also trained encouragingly on the turf course at Palm Meadows, and with his excellent tactical speed, Hidden Scroll figures to set or press a modest pace in the Jaipur. From there, he might just feel inclined to hang around and finish in the money.

#7 White Flag, the second sprinter hailing from the stable of Clement, is another who warrants respect after accumulating four wins, a second, and two thirds from seven starts on the grass at Belmont Park, including two wins and a second in three tries on this inner turf course. The son of War Front handles three-quarters of a mile just fine and has placed against Grade 1 company, but like stablemate Pure Sensation, he’s returning from a long layoff and might need to get a race under his belt before returning to peak form.

So how do we turn these opinions into a viable wagering strategy? Let’s focus our attention on Oleksandra, betting the mare to win and playing her in the top two slots of a trifecta. For the remaining slots, we’ll use Pure Sensation, Hidden Scroll, White Flag, and also #4 Stubbins, the stretch-running winner of the 2019 Grade 2 Woodford Stakes Presented by Keeneland Select.


Wagering Strategy on a $20 Budget

$8 to win on #2 Oleksandra

What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 9th race, $8 to win on #2

$0.50 trifecta: 2 with 4,5,6,7 with 4,5,6,7 ($6)

What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 9th race, $0.50 trifecta: 2 with 4,5,6,7 with 4,5,6,7

$0.50 trifecta: 4,5,6,7 with 2 with 4,5,6,7 ($6)

What to say at the betting window: Belmont Park, 9th race, $0.50 trifecta: 4,5,6,7 with 2 with 4,5,6,7

Watch the 2020 Belmont Stakes on Saturday, June 20 from 2:45 p.m. to 6 p.m. ET on NBC, NBCSports.com and the NBC Sports app.