Haskell: Taiba, Jack Christopher square off
The undefeated Jack Christopher will square off against Taiba, whose only defeat came in the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby, in Saturday’s Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park.
This year’s 55th running of the Haskell has the look of a race that could have a significant impact on the three-year-old division going forward. Jack Christopher and Taiba are two of the four Grade 1 winners in the field of eight.
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Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife and Florida Derby winner White Abarrio also are Grade 1 winners. Taiba has been installed as the 7-5 morning line favorite and will have Mike Smith in the irons.
“He looks great,” said Bob Baffert, who trains Taiba for Zedan Racing Stables Inc. “Everything points to he’s doing really well.”
Taiba broke his maiden in March and jumped immediately into Grade 1 company, winning the Santa Anita Derby. That triumph earned the son of Gun Runner a spot in the Kentucky Derby, in which he finished twelfth as the second choice at post time.
“I don’t know what happened [in the Derby],” said Baffert, who was at the time serving his recently concluded suspension, though he also is suspended from racing at Churchill Downs properties through next year’s Derby.
Taiba has recorded seven works since early June, most recently a five-furlong move in 59 2/5 seconds July 15 that was the second-fastest of 56 at the distance at Baffert’s Santa Anita base. Baffert has won the Haskell a record nine times.
Jack Christopher, trained by Chad Brown for Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud, and Peter Brant, is 3-2 on the morning line. Jose Ortiz has the mount.
A Munnings colt, Jack Christopher enters the Haskell with a spotless four-for-four ledger, including Grade 1 wins in the Champagne as a two-year-old and last out in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard. The Haskell will be his first try beyond a mile.
Cyberknife, 6-1 on the morning line, has won four of eight starts, including that win in the Arkansas Derby. Bouncing back from an up-the-track finish in the Kentucky Derby, Cyberknife edged Howling Time after a long duel to win the Grade 3 Matt Win at Churchill Downs June 12.
“I think we’re going to have see the best Cyberknife to win this race,” said Brad Cox, who conditions Cyberknife for Gold Square LLC. “If he can bring his last race and maybe move forward just a little bit, he can be a major player.”
Florent Geroux has the mount.
White Abarrio, a four-time winner from seven starts for trainer Saffie Joseph, Jr., is the only other horse here in single digits. He is lined at 5-1 and will have Joel Rosario up.
White Abarrio finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby. Most recently he finished second, a length behind Tawny Port, in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby.
BetMakers, which provides fixed-odds wagering at Monmouth, sees the race somewhat differently. Fixed-odds wagering allows bettors to lock in their price. BetMakers will open with Jack Christopher at even-money and Taiba at 5-2.
The Haskell will be the 12th race on a 14-race slate.
HASKELL POST POSTIONS
- Cyberknife (6-1): Brad Cox/Florent Geroux
- Taiba (7-5): Bob Baffert/Mike Smith
- One Time Willard (30-1): John Stephens/Paco Lopez
- Howling Time (10-1): Dale Romans/Joe Talamo
- King of Hollywood (30-1): Gregg Sacco/Nik Juarez
- White Abarrio (5-1): Saffie Joseph, Jr./Joe Rosario
- Jack Christopher (3-2): Chad Brown/Jose Ortiz
- Benevengo (20-1): Jesse Cruz/Angel Rodriguez