“His own path” takes Girvin to Haskell glory
by Jim Hague
As the field turned for home in the $1 million Betfair.com Haskell Invitational Sunday afternoon at Monmouth Park, Girvin found himself buried in traffic, sitting sixth out of seven entrants.
At that point, Girvin’s trainer Joe Sharp began to worry.
“To be honest, I was nervous,” Sharp said.
So were the other 35,303 people in attendance.
But Girvin’s jockey, the veteran Robby Albarado, never flinched. “I had to trust the horse and his ability to run others down,” Albarado said.
After all, it was Girvin’s exercise rider and assistant trainer Rosie Napravnik, one of the most successful female jockeys in the history of thoroughbred racing who now works horses, who boldly proclaimed that Girvin was the best three-year-old she had ever ridden, despite his 13th place finish in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in May.
Napravnik, the New Jersey native, happens to be Sharp’s wife and the mother of his two young sons. She’s worked closely with her husband since retiring in 2014 when she announced she was pregnant for the first time, leaving the game with more than $71 million in career earnings. Napravnik obviously knows her horses.
Still, Sharp wasn’t sure. After all, the horse was the odds-on favorite at the Grade 3 Ohio Derby in June, but was beaten at the wire by Irap.
“He didn’t have a Grade 1 stakes win,” Sharp said, alluding to the fact that the Haskell was indeed a Grade I stakes race. “We had to be patient with the horse. We had to wait for him to get into stride and get going down the stretch. We had to let Girvin take us on his own path.”
So as soon as the home stretch began, Girvin began to make his move on the front-running McCraken, who seized the lead lead in upper stretch and appeared to be home free.
Girvin moved four wide past the pack into the lane, kept steadily moving up and put on a thrilling last-second surge that was good enough to sneak past McCraken to pull off the 9-1 upset by just a nose.
The second-highest price of the seven-horse field, Girvin paid $20.40 to win, $9.20 to place and $4.80 to show. McCraken, off at 7-1, paid $7.20 to place and $4.40 to show. Practical Joke, racing in between the top pair, was third, just a half-length behind the winner, and paid $3.80 to show.
Irish War Cry, the New Jersey-bred horse owned by Isabelle de Tomaso, whose father, Amory Haskell, was Monmouth Park’s first president and is this race’s namesake, finished fourth after racing near the early pace.
It was a disappointing outcome for the hometown hopeful, whose owner, 86 years old, had spoken hopefully in the paddock earlier in the day.
“Well, it couldn’t be more exciting,” she said then. “We never thought we’ d have a horse that that good to run in this race, so it’s really great.”
But, she allowed, it’s horse racing, so…
“Hopefully, he’ll win,” she said. “He’s been working well. But you never know, like he stopped and nobody knew why (in the Kentucky Derby).”
The previously undefeated Timeline, sent off as the race favorite at 9-5, tired badly in the homestretch after battling for the lead and was a beaten fifth.
Albarado, who won his first Haskell after finishing second twice (Touch Tone in 2001 and Sky Mesa in 2003) and finished third in 2007 with the heavily favored Curlin, was patient with the way the race broke. Albarado had to have been patient; Girvin, typically an at least somewhat tactical sort, was dead last after a half-mile, behind even the always-sluggish-early Hence.
“I figured the pace would go a little quick,” said Albarado, who has won more than 5,000 races in his 27-year career. “I just didn’t want to get stuck on the inside. His best move is coming from behind. We had so much confidence in his training.”
It doesn’t hurt that Girvin, who is owned by Brad Grady, has a pretty decent exercise rider, one who is a two-time winner of the Kentucky Oaks. She also finished fifth aboard Mylute in the 2013 Kentucky Derby, now the best finish ever by a female jockey.
In April, while working as the exercise rider for Girvin, Napravnik joked that she was going to come out of retirement to ride Girvin. As it turned out, it was on April Fool’s Day.
“I was worried people were going to take it seriously,” Napravnik said. “”I’m satisfied with the accomplishments that I’ve made. If I feel like I really want to come back in a few years then I can do it. The greatest thing is I don’t have to.”
Girvin’s victory, coupled with yesterday’s surprising Grade 2 Jim Dandy results, in which Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness winner Cloud Computing were defeated, only serves to increase the disarray in the sophomore division.
Girvin, who received an automatic spot in the Breeder’s Cup Classic in November with the win Sunday, has to be in consideration with the rest. He’s now won four of seven career starts, owns three graded stakes victories, and has over $1.5 million in career earings.
“I’ve never been more confident in the horse,” Sharp said. “I’m getting more confident in the horse every day. We’ll see what happens in the future.”