Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) drew a compact field of six, but while the quantity is not there, the quality is as Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Nyquist will square off with Preakness (G1) winner Exaggerator in the marquee event of the Monmouth Park summer meeting.
Nyquist had no trouble handling Exaggerator the first four times they met, but the tables were turned in the Preakness where Exaggerator rallied to win by 3 ½ lengths while the Kentucky Derby winner was nosed out for the place spot and had to settle for third.
It was the first career defeat for Nyquist, who won his first eight starts, and with Creator beating Exaggerator in the Belmont Stakes (G1), the three-year-old division has become wide open and likely won’t be settled until the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) when the crop face older.
Nyquist was installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite for the Haskell and may have the tactical edge over Exaggerator, who is the 5-2 second choice.
There are four others in the field and they should not be overlooked. Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has won the Haskell a record eight times including the last two years with Bayern and American Pharoah, who both went on to win the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Baffert will send out Iowa Derby (G3) winner American Freedom, who is the third choice on the morning line at 3-1.
Gun Runner ran third in the Run for the Roses, and came back with an impressive victory in the Matt Winn (G3) at Churchill Downs in his last outing on June 18. The Steve Asmussen trainee is 4-1 on the morning line.
Completing the field are Sunny Ridge (20-1), who won the Withers (G3) and then was fourth in the Gotham (G3) in his last start and Awesome Slew (15-1), who was third in the Pegasus (G3) over the Monmouth Park main track.
The Haskell will be televised live on NBC at 5:00 ET and serves as a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race for the Classic this fall at Santa Anita.
Let’s head out to the Jersey Shore for Sunday’s featured race of the day:
Monmouth Park Race 12 The Haskell Invitational G1 (Post time 5:47 ET)
#1 Nyquist 6-5
#5 American Freedom 3-1
#4 Gun Runner 4-1
#6 Exaggerator 5-2
Analysis: Nyquist probably should have won the Preakness (G1) with better strategy, as getting into an early speed duel with a longshot was not the right move. It was his first defeat and he had beaten Exaggerator in four previous outings and likely does it again today. He owns solid early and mid pace numbers and can jump to the lead or sit just off of it.
American Freedom is coming off a win in the Iowa Derby (G3) for the Baffert barn that has won this race a record eight times. He gets a serious class test here but with just four starts under his belt still appears to have some upside. He will be forwardly placed and has enough pedigree for his first trip at nine furlongs, by Pulpit out of a Pleasant Tap mare.
Gun Runner took the field gate to wire to win the Matt Winn (G3) last out at Churchill Downs in his first start since his third in the Kentucky Derby. he came into the Derby off wins in the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2) and his speed figures have moved forward in each of his last four starts. He has things relatively easy up front last out but the race should serve as a good prep for today.
WIN: #1 to win at 6-5 or better.
EX: 1,5 / 1,4,5
TRI: no play
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