The Haskell was the fourth race in the Triple Crown - with a new twist. Lost Code would be in front. Bet Twice would be somewhere close. Alysheba would be coming from farther behind. It played out just that way. Bet Twice edged by Lost Code in the stretch and held off Alysheba to the wire. A few feet separated the three of them.
Sunday's $1 million Haskell will have to go some to duplicate 1987, but the eight-horse field is deep, talented and could very well have the best horse in America. Derby winner Street Sense proved he's back in a big way in last Sunday's Jim Dandy Stakes. Belmont winner Rags to Riches is back in training, gearing up for her next race after a scare that kept her away from the track for several days and got her a brief visit to the New Bolton Center for a checkup.
The Haskell has Preakness winner Curlin, Derby runner-up Hard Spun, overwhelming Dwyer Stakes winner Any Given Saturday (the obligatory Todd Pletcher entrant) and the fast, unbeaten, Jersey Shore hero Cable Boy, a colt that had not even started when they ran the 2007 Derby.
This Haskell is loaded with early speed. Now, Monmouth has been known to favor speed, but when there is too much speed, the pace often melts the front-runners, regardless of how the track is playing.
"I guess it depends on which Monmouth Park race track we have," Pletcher said. "Are we going to have the one that's really fast and inside-speed favoring or are we going to have the one we had last year?"
Last year, Pletcher's Bluegrass Cat came very wide and won the Haskell easily. Earlier in this Monmouth meet, Pletcher's Lawyer Ron, the same colt that just set the mile-and-an-eighth Saratoga track record in last Saturday's Whitney, could not catch a lone speed type at 1-10.
Curlin will go favored. There is simply nothing not to like about the big colt that seemed to get stronger as the Triple Crown went on.
"Talentwise, he's capable of doing anything you want him to do," Curlin's trainer Steve Asmussen said.
Curlin and Hard Spun were the only horses to run in all the Triple Crown races. Hard Spun got a tactically perfect ride in the Derby from Mario Pino. The colt got an impatient ride from Pino in the Preakness, followed by a way-too-patient (of, if you prefer, stupid) ride in the Belmont Stakes from new rider Garrett Gomez. Pino is now back on Hard Spun.
"Well, we didn't see any improvement when we changed," Hard Spun's trainer Larry Jones said. "We were trying to keep everyone happy. The owners [Hard Spun is owned by Rick Porter, but the colt's stallion rights were sold before the Belmont] had kind of requested a little bit of a change. And we did. They decided now we'd like to keep our team together."
Owner Satish Sanan has an interesting dilemma. He is part owner of Curlin and Any Given Saturday. Can you say exacta?
Cable Boy made his first start on May 13. The colt has won his three starts convincingly, but is going from Double A to the MLB playoffs with no stops in between. At the very least, Cable Boy, along with Stormello and Hard Spun, ensures a very fast pace.
Any Given Saturday romped in the Dwyer. If the colt runs back to that race, he can give Curlin a race. Hard Spun has never won against the best, but the strange rides in the Preakness and Belmont still make him a bit of a mystery. Curlin is no mystery. He might be the most talented horse in the country. While the Haskell is certainly a race Asmussen wants to win, it is also a test run for the Oct. 27 Breeders' Cup Classic, also at Monmouth.
"I think that's the main reason we're running him in the Haskell," Asmussen said. "The Breeders' Cup being his major objective for the second half of the year."
The Triple Crown season ended with that unforgettable Belmont. The championship season began last weekend with a wonderful performance by Lawyer Ron and the hint of a Travers explosion by Street Sense.
There is not much chance this Haskell can live up to its 1987 ancestor. But that's not necessary. If it is at all like any of this year's Triple Crown races, that will be just fine. *