With the three Triple Crown Races now in our rear-view mirror, the 3 year-old thoroughbred competition turns to the summer Derbys -- most notably the Travers, Haskell, and Pennsylvania Derby. The Haskell is the first one on the slate this Saturday and it will once again be the spotlight race of the summer for New Jersey's Monmouth Park. It's a bit disappointing that only eight runners are showing up for Saturday's nine furlong affair, but that could be due to the presence of a couple of big runners. With that being said, as in most cases, there is an opportunity to make some money in the Haskell and so we present our contenders and pretenders for this weekend's big race.
#7 - Jack Christopher. If all you do every thoroughbred season is follow the Triple Crown races, then you likely have not heard of this Chad Brown-trained son of Munnings. Jack Christopher was one of the hottest stars on the Triple Crown Trail at the end of last year, but had to skip the Breeders Cup in November and then wasn't ready for the Derby, Preakness or Belmont while recovering from his minor injury. But that's not to say he didn't run on the same day as two of the Triple Crown races. On Derby day, Jack Christopher made a successful return in the Pat Day Mile, winning easily despite a seven month layoff. Then on Belmont Day, he was even more impressive in the Woody Stephens, crushing his competition by 10 lengths (he could've won by more). This will be his first test around two turns and the nine furlongs of the Haskell represents the longest distance he's ever been asked to go, but there's nothing in his record to indicate that he can't do it. Simply put -- despite not running in the Triple Crown races, Jack Christopher is the consensus choice right now as best 3YO in the country. Due to the presence of the Baffert runner Taiba in here (see Pretenders section below), Jack Christopher is only the second choice in the field today at 3-2. If for some reason he goes off at even money or higher, he would offer great value.
#1 - Cyberknife. With most people thinking this is a two-horse affair between Jack Christopher and Taiba, you might just get a very nice price on this Brad Cox-trained son of Gun Runner. There are few trainers as hot as Cox right now and if you throw out his brutal trip in the Ky Derby, Cyberknife has done little wrong in his campaign. He came back after the Derby defeat to take the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs on June 12 and looks to be in the best form of his career. That doesn't mean he can keep up with Jack Christopher, but with regular rider Florent Giroux aboard, Cyberknife makes an intriguing choice in the bottom of the exacta with Jack Christopher, or as a Place bet.
#2 - Taiba. There's no denying that Bob Baffert owns this race. The California trainer has won the Haskell a record nine times. People east of the Mississippi haven't seen much of Baffert lately as he's been effectively banned from running in New York and Kentucky due to suspicions of using banned substances but New Jersey is welcoming him this weekend. Having said that, you can bet that Baffert and his horses will be under the microscope so whatever questionable medications Baffert is using -- or was thinking of using on his horse today -- will be left behind in California. The other reason to toss Taiba today is the fact that he hasn't been out since his 12th place finish in the Ky Derby and the horse only has three lifetime starts so it's hard to imagine he'll be in top form to compete with the likes of Jack Christopher and Cyberknife. He will be overbet and offers no value today.
#6 - White Abarrio. You have to admire Saffie Joseph's son of Race Day who seems like he could run a race on the moon if Joseph wanted to ship him there. He's been to Florida, Kentucky, and Ohio in his last three races but the problem is that his speed figures -- especially in his last race when he finished second to Tawny Port in the Ohio Derby -- appear to be on the decline. Unless he can dramatically improve that number today, he stands to be a distant fourth at best. People will probably bet the popular runner and at anything close to his morning line of 5-1, White Abarrio is a horse you want to take a strong stand against -- even in the exotic wagers (i.e., exacta and trifecta)
Good luck, as always...