At the Haskell, a hometown horse and a “Hollywood story”

by | Jul 27, 2017 | Breaking, Features, New Jersey, NJ Racing, Racing, Top Stories

Exaggerator trailed the field into the first turn but led them home in the 2016 Haskell. Photo by Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO.

by Jim Hague

The 50th edition of the $1 million Haskell Invitational Stakes, a Grade I stakes race for 3-year-olds, Sunday afternoon might not have the luster and lure of a Triple Crown winner.

In fact, the owners of all three of this year’s Triple Crown race winners have decided to skip this year’s Haskell. Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming, Preakness winner Cloud Computing and Belmont winner Tapwrit will not be part of the seven-horse field for this year’s Haskell.

Nor will Classic Empire, who finished second in the Preakness and fourth in the Kentucky Derby.

But there is a fan favorite among the field, one that might just capture the imagination of a Haskell crowd, albeit nowhere near the 60,000 that flooded the gates to see Triple Crown champion American Pharoah two years ago.

Irish War Cry is a New Jersey-bred Curlin colt, who is coming off a heartbreaking second place finish to Tapwrit at the Belmont.

What’s more, the chestnut colt is owned by 86-year-old Isabelle de Tomaso, the daughter of Amory L. Haskell, the former chairman and president of Monmouth Park for whom the race was named after his death in 1966.

De Tomaso is expected to attend Sunday’s race, and with a little luck, her sister, Hope Haskell Jones, another daughter of Haskell, will present her the championship trophy.

“There’s no pressure there, right?” said Graham Motion, the veteran trainer of Irish War Cry. Motion was one of five trainers on a conference call for media members after the draw for the race was held Thursday morning at the racetrack.

“It was our goal all along to have him ready for this race,” Motion said of the colt that has already won four of seven starts in his life and accumulated $979,460 in earnings, including wins in the Grade II Wood Memorial and Holy Bull Stakes.

“It’s a big thrill for us to be there at the Haskell,” Motion said of his horse, who was made the 5-2 morning line favorite. “I think at the end of the day we have to be thrilled just to get to this point.”

Motion, who has never had a horse entered in the Haskell, said that Irish War Cry has recovered well from the tough stretch run at the Belmont Stakes.

“We’re pleased with the way he has responded,” Motion said. “We gave him an easy four-furlong gallop and he handled that well. He hasn’t missed any training. It’s good to have him here at Fair Hill (Training Center in Maryland, where Motion is based). We’re very happy to have him training at Fair Hill. I’m proud of the way he ran in the Wood Memorial and proud of the way he ran in the Belmont.”

Motion wasn’t overly enthusiastic about drawing the No. 1 post in the race, with veteran Rajiv Maragh aboard.

“I’m probably not thrilled about it,” Notion said. “I would have preferred to be in the middle. But it’s my first Haskell and it’s a big thrill for me and all of us.”

Motion’s horses have earned more than $111 million and he’s reached the winner’s circle more than 2,200 times, including nearly 150 graded stakes. He won the 2011 Kentucky Derby with Animal Kingdom.

While Irish War Cry might be the morning line favorite and the probable post-time favorite, the race appears to be wide open, with any of the entrants laying a legitimate claim to earning the prestigious trophy and the winner’s share of $1 million.

Trainer Chad C. Brown works with the next two Haskell entrants on the morning line, namely 3-1 Timeline and 4-1 Practical Joke.

Timeline is undefeated in four starts and has earned $243,000. He’s won at four different tracks at four different distances, both on off and fast tracks. Saturday’s expected rainfall might turn the Monmouth Park surface to be muddy by race time Sunday.

Timeline won the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park June 18, despite losing a shoe. He also won the Grade 3 Peter Pan at Belmont.

Practical Joke has won four times in eight starts and has earned $1.3 million in his career. Practical Joke was fifth at the Kentucky Derby, and mostly recently won the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont, a race at the one-turn distance of a mile.

“With Practical Joke, it’s no secret he’s excelled around one turn,” Brown said. “You have to take chances sometimes. I feel confident that the horse can handle a mile and an eighth (the Haskell distance). They are different horses. Timeline has more natural speed. For Practical Joke, he needs some work.”

Practical Joke rallied from fourth to win the Dwyer. Timeline, meanwhile, led throughout to win the Pegasus.

“Timeline is the one who has all the natural ability,” Brown said of his horse, who will have Javier Castellano aboard. “Once we got his career started, we had our eye on the Haskell for a long time. This is a race that suits him. He’s had enough seasoning and has done everything we’ve asked him to do. Javier said that he just continues to be impressed by this horse. He’s a tough horse and he’s showed it, especially after losing a shoe early in the race and winning. Even though he’s undefeated, he’s going to need his ‘A’ race to win this one.”

Others entered in the Haskell include Battle of Midway (No. 2 post, 5-1 morning line, trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, jockey Flavien Prat); Girvin (No. 7 post, 6-1 morning line, trainer Joe Sharp, trainer Robby Alvarado); McCraken (No. 5 post, 9-2 morning line, trainer Ian Wilkes, jockey Brian Hernandez, Jr.); Hence (No. 6 post, 12-1 morning line, trainer Steven Asmussen, jockey Paco Lopez).

Post time for the 50th running of the Haskell is 5:47 p.m. Television coverage from NBC (5-6 p.m.) and TVG (entire 14-race card beginning at 12 noon).

“We have a bit of a Hollywood story here,” said Bob Kulina, the president of Darby Development, the organization that runs Monmouth Park. “It’s the 50th edition and some of you might be here for the 75th edition. I probably won’t be here, but there definitely will be a 75th one because we’re going nowhere.”