Locals give Jersey flavor to Haskell 2018

by | Jul 26, 2018 | Breaking, New Jersey, NJ Racing, Racing, Top Stories

Golden Brown won the Kent Stakes. Photo by Allison Janezic.

by Jim Hague

The truth be told, Kelly John Breen would not have sent his three-year-old colt Roaming Union to the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park if a certain prominent 3-year-old had been entered.

Plain and simple, if Triple Crown champion Justify were running in the Haskell, then Breen would not have placed Roaming Union’s name in the entry box.

“Up until the entry deadline, we were on the fence,” said Breen, the New Jersey native who practically grew up at Monmouth Park. “I didn’t know what (Justify trainer Bob) Baffert was going to do.”

But as the picture started to draw a lot clearer that Justify not only wouldn’t run in the Haskell, but the undefeated champion would be retired to stud after suffering an ankle injury, then Breen started to like his horse’s chances a lot more.

“The race is wide open,” Breen said after Roaming Union drew the No. 2 post position and was given a morning line of 10-1. “It’s a $1 million race. We’re just thrilled to be here.”

Roaming Union is one of seven 3-year-olds that will go to the gate for the 51st running of the Grade I Haskell. Good Magic, who ran second to Justify in the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in early May, is the 6-5 morning line favorite.


Roaming Union’s sire is Union Rags, who was the winner of the 2012 Belmont States and who won Grade I events as a 2-year-old and a 3-year-old. Roaming Union won his lone race in 11 career starts at Aqueduct last January, but that doesn’t bother Breen. Roaming Union’s last outing, a near-miss runner-up effort in the Pegasus, came over the Monmouth strip June 17.

“I love Monmouth Park,” Breen said.

Monmouth Park is the home for some, but it’s even more special to Breen.

“This means the world to me. You have no idea,” he said. “I’m bringing my entire family around. To have the support of your family and friends means the world to me. This is the one race that I had the most fun at as a kid.”

Roaming Union, who will be ridden by Albin Jimenez, isn’t the only horse with Jersey ties.

Golden Brown, coming out of stall number 7 and given a morning line of 15-1, the longest shot on the board, is a New Jersey-bred and was purchased for $22,000; he’s owned by a partnership including ABL Stable, D. Bossone, P. Donnelly, and J. Schnoor,Jr.. Trained by Monmouth Park favorite Patrick McBurney, Golden Brown has won three of seven starts in his career, earning $209,500.

Golden Brown’s best efforts have come on the turf. McBurney’s horse came off the pace to capture the win in the Grade III Kent Stakes at Delaware Park in his last outing. The time before, Golden Brown was a rallying second to Irish Strait in the Dan Horn Stakes at Monmouth Park in June.

“To get invited to the Haskell at our home base is incredible,” McBurney said. “I think he’s got a shot. He’s won here (an allowance in May) and when you look at his breeding, he was bred to run at this distance. If he takes to the dirt here, he’s got a shot.”

Golden Brown will be ridden by Jairo Rendon.

The third colt with a little bit of Jersey is Navy Commander, who has won five times already in 11 starts for Parx Racing-based trainer Butch Reid, earning $186,663 in the process.

Navy Commander, with Angel Arroyo aboard, is another long shot, with morning line odds of 12-1. He prepped for the Haskell by winning the Long Branch Stakes July 7 over the strip by more than three lengths. It was Navy Commander’s second straight victory and first in stakes company.

“He really stepped it up the last time out,” said Reid, who also grew up near Monmouth Park. “He really liked the course and liked the scenery. I’m just glad to get my chance to run here. It should be a great Haskell. It would be huge to be able to win the race.”

Chad Brown’s Good Magic, with Jose Ortiz aboard, should be sent off as the race’s prohibitive favorite. Good Magic was the winner of the Grade II Blue Grass Stakes, was third in the Grade II Fountain of Youth, then competed well in both the Kentucky Derby (second) and Preakness (fourth) to Justify.

Even Breen acknowledges that Good Magic should be the favorite.

“If he’s that good, then he’s going to win the race,” Breen said. “But Good Magic now has the target on his back.”

Brown said his colt is ready after a two-month absence following the Preakness.

“He had those two tough races (the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness), so then we decided to give him some time off,” Brown said. “But the horse has been training very well. Right after the Preakness, we started thinking about the Haskell. We just needed some time off to recharge the batteries a little and come back fresh. Considering everything he’s been through, we feel he’s ready to get back into the ring.”

The others in the field include Preakness runner-up Bravazo (3-1), trained by D. Wayne Lukas and with Luis Saez in the irons; 4-1 Core Beliefs (Peter Eurton, Flavien Prat), and 5-1 Lone Sailor (Thomas Amoss and Monmouth Park favorite “Jersey” Joe Bravo).

The 14-race card begins at noon on Sunday with the Haskell’s post time scheduled for 5:47 p.m.