With my move down to the publicity office this year, I’ve been a bigger part of the behind the scenes work for things like today’s IZOD Haskell Press Conference. I’ve also had the chance to talk to more trainers on the phone and overhear some more of the daily gossip. The following are some of the things I’ve picked up the last couple of days about the IZOD Haskell field – interspersed with some personal handicapping opinion.
1)Lookin at Lucky – Bob Baffert was definitely the most animated trainer we talked to during Thursday’s press conference – and it wasn’t exactly a good animated. Perhaps it’s his name, but Lookin at Lucky seems like he just can’t catch a break – and that continued today as he drew the IZOD Haskell rail. Whether it’s drawing post 1 or mid-race traffic issues, the reigning 2-year-old champ does seem a little snake bit. HANDICAPPING: He may have the worst luck, but I think Lookin at Lucky is the best horse in the IZOD Haskell. Assuming no traffic issues – which isn’t a given from the one hole – I make LAL strictly the one to beat and he’ll be atop my tickets.
2)Afleet Again – Trainer “Butch” Reid downplayed it, jockey Joe Bravo did not, but it has to be at least a moderately big deal that this guy is the only horse stabled at Monmouth Park. Bravo made the point at the press conference Thursday – if you were running on Sunday, would you rather wake up at 3 am, and ride south from Saratoga (including a trip on the NJ Turnpike), or would you rather roll out of your own bed in the morning and go through a normal pre-race routine? HANDICAPPING: Afleet Again is taking a big step up in class, but has Monmouth Park’s leading rider Joe Bravo and the home-field advantage. Will that be enough to win? I don’t think so. But it could be enough to hit the board at a big price.
3)Ice Box – According to trainer Nick Zito, the tough-luck Derby runner-up looks absolutely phenomenal. Zito said in the days following the Belmont Stakes that Ice Box’s bad showing could be chalked up to the heat. In his final workout on Monday, Ice Box finished ahead of workmate Cool Coal Man, who is a multiple stakes winner and is entered on the Haskell undercard. HANDICAPPING: You don’t see many horses win from last in the Haskell, and with that in mind, I hadn’t given Ice Box too much consideration under earlier this week when I read he out-worked “The Coal Man.” Zito sounded extremely pleased with how the horse looks (which has to be a positive sign), and he was probably the best horse in the Derby, so who knows. Probably won’t be on the ticket, but definitely wouldn’t be surprised if he won.
4)First Dude – I talked to trainer Dale Romans earlier this week and the quote was, “He was doing great going into the Belmont, and he’s doing just as well heading into this race.” The Preakness runner-up had a little bit of bad luck Thursday as he drew just inside Our Dark Knight – the other likely speed horse – but Romans does seem confident. “To be the best, you have to beat the best,” he said. HANDICAPPING: Of all the horses in this year’s IZOD Haskell, he is the one I most want to see. Why? Supposedly, he is enormous! I think First Dude has a great chance of winning the Haskell with his gutsy, front-running style. If he goes down, he’ll go down fighting.
5)Our Dark Knight – Trainer Nick Zito also spoke highly of this recent allowance winner, saying he’s definitely an up-and-coming 3-year-old. He’s never been worse than second in his career, but also has never run against Grade 1-caliber animals. HANDICAPPING: What a tough race! Our Dark Knight is 15-1 on the morning line and he actually has a decent shot in this race. You have to respect anything Nick Zito sends to the gate, especially in big races, but he won’t be a use for me.
6)Super Saver – One thing I’ve learned over the years is to believe Todd Pletcher when he says something in the media. According to Pletcher, the Kentucky Derby winner has put on weight since the Triple Crown and has been training very well. In fact, his work two Sunday’s ago, was the best Pletcher has ever seen from this horse. Those are the types of comments I like to hear coming into a big race. HANDICAPPING: All that being said, I’m not going to be using Super Saver in this race. Unfortunately, you can’t use every horse, and for better or worse, I’m leaving him off my tickets. If my recent results are any indications, everyone reading this should run to the windows and bet Super Saver.
7)Uptowncharlybrown – Despite being 15-1 on the morning line, there is one person who is extremely confident in Uptowncharlybrown and that is owner Bob Hutt of Fantasy Lane Stable. Before being sent to McLaughlin’s barn, Uptowncharlybrown did train at Monmouth Park so it won’t be his first taste of the Shore oval. HANDICAPPING: Can I just pick all eight of them? I haven’t been around long enough to know all of racing’s history, but other than the Breeders’ Cup, this might be the toughest handicapping race I’ve ever seen. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see Uptowncharlybrown hit the board.
8) Trappe Shot – Over the past couple weeks, I don’t think I’ve heard a more confident trainer than Kiaran McLaughlin talking about Trappe Shot. He was confident going into the Long Branch, confident during the race, and very confident after the race and leading upto the IZOD Haskell. HANDICAPPING: For me, listening to your gut instinct is a big part of handicapping. During and after the Long Branch, I think sensed an enormous confidence from trainer Kiaran McLaughlin toward Trappe Shot. He’s never faced this deep of a field, but he’ll be my second choice behind Mr. [Un]Lucky.
Brad Thomas’ Thursday Theories
This season’s 3-year-old Thoroughbred crop feels disrespected. Nobody gets great press exaltation or currently is regarded as a serious Breeders’ Cup Classic candidate. Maybe the IZOD Haskell will change all of that. So, let’s play What’s My Whine?
The panelists are:
D)Lookin at Lucky
E)Our Dark Knight
The whines are:
1 – I’m game and versatile and getting better with every race. I live in Saratoga Springs, but I really like Monmouth. I’m not afraid of the bigshots. But something tells me I’m the one who’s going to be mixing it up with them early when they’re fresh and strong. Then my buddy is going to be charging hard in support when things slow down. Support. Yeah. Support.
2 – Sure, some of my rivals might have more raw talent, scope for improvement, and sexier veneers. But my mind and personality are in leagues of their own. I do the little things right and have the mental toughness of a commando. And hey, it’s not like I need plastic surgery either. I know I’m not unbeatable, but anyone who does take me will have to run a true, Grade 1 race – something very few of my peers so far have been able to do.
3 – I just love to run. That song they’ll play before the race is really about me. Wish the thing was two miles. But it ain’t. At one mile and an eighth, I’ll have to behave at the gate and try – even though it’s against my nature – to save some ground and stay straight in the lane. Yeah, I’ll admit it. Bad behavior has cost me races. But I’m better than people think I am and I will be passing some expended hotshots in the homestretch money run.
4 – I’ve been treated like I’m special for my entire racing life and as a result some folks think I’m a little soft. But I’ve put on a super show every time this year – just not in the big time. The locals tried ganging up on me last race. Pinned me to a dull rail. Ha! How dare they challenge me with their inferior skills! I showed ‘em. Won for fun and could have opened up even more. Now’s my time. The naysayers will have eggs dripping down their face on Sunday!
5 – I’m bigger and better-looking than my namesake, but maybe not as versatile. I don’t turn well or focus when dirt is getting kicked in my face – like you would!? – but put me on the lead or pressing the pace on the outside and I’m as tough and tenacious as a Bostonian in Mohawk garb. Question is, can I get over the top in this party?
6 – I mean, I just don’t know what happened last time. I was galloping smoothly along and – whoosh! Lucky no one got hit. Anyway, now I’m refreshed and looking to develop a consistent running style. Mid-pack grinder sounds about right and the pace scenario could play to my strength. And remember, I’ve played with Trappe Shot on many a morning. I know I can run with him!
7 – I’m really not sure why I’m coming to Jersey. But I just follow orders. I love roomier tracks and longer stretches. But I also adore pace meltdowns and maybe they’ll be more speed here than in the Jim Dandy. Now don’t get me wrong, I want my bud to run well at Saratoga, but this is a competition for the 3-year-old championship. I gotta trust my people. They tell me the Shore’s been kinder than usual to my style. Sure hope so – keep the tractors in the barn!
8 – I like my rest. Easy trips are great. Shiny, sealed surfaces are my rose garden. So what! I’m athletic, adaptable, and pretty darn good on just about any day. And nine furlongs, I’ll let you in on a little secret, truly is my best game on a clear afternoon. And, even better, I’m really, really suited by the tight contours of Monmouth Park. Just hope I’m not so fresh that I pull and tug instead of relaxing and rating!
Match up the panelists with their whines and win valuable prizes of handicapping information and insight. And, by Sunday evening, respect for someone will materialize in the form of a big check and a leg up on a championship.