By Gene Kershner
This weekend marks the return of the 3-year-old division into the racing spotlight with the $1 million Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and the $600,000 Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. Some familiar names such as Oxbow, Palace Malice, Mylute and Verrazano will be gracing racetracks on the East Coast this weekend.
The 1 1/8-mile Haskell has served as a stepping stone to the 3-year-old division champion in recent years and has also been a haven for the Preakness champion to double up on this race. That certainly would serve Oxbow's cause, as he won the Preakness this year and is in the thick of the 3-year-old divisional chase with a runner-up finish in the Belmont.
The Haskell has attracted six other runners including Derby runner-up Golden Soul and Grade 3 Pegasus winner Verrazano to challenge Oxbow for this prestigious Grade 1 win. Bob Baffert changed gears earlier in the week and decided to send Power Broker to the Jersey Shore instead of the Spa based on some stellar workouts of late. Baffert has had tremendous success in the Haskell winning the last three editions and a record six total Haskells.
Todd Pletcher sends Micromanage for Repole Stables in addition to Verrazano, seeking his third Haskell title after winning back to back Haskells in 2006 (Bluegrass Cat) and 2007 (Any Given Saturday).
There is definitely some speed in the race and I think we'll see the late developing Power Broker overtake the likely early leaders Oxbow and Verrazano in the stretch. Micromanage could also pick up the pieces if there is an insane early pace, but otherwise he doesn't have the speed to contend with these.
Post Time Outlook (Haskell): 1 - Power Broker; 2 - Oxbow; 3- Verrazano
The Jim Dandy has 10 horses entered at Saratoga (Vyjack is entered in both the Haskell and the Dandy) and the Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice is the morning line favorite at 5-2 and will have Mike Smith flying in from California for the mount. The Belmont champ has been working very well for trainer Todd Pletcher who will look to sweep both races on the coast this weekend.
The main challenge will come from Mylute (7-2) who returns from his third place finish in the Preakness, Rosie Napravnik retains the mount on the son of Midnight Lute. In addition to Mylute, Baffert will test Code West's (6-1) ability by throwing him into the deep 3-year-old division waters after taking a softer route with him through the Triple Crown season.
Code West downed Uncaptured by a head in the Grade 3 Matt Winn at Churchill Downs under the lights last month. It will give Western New Yorkers a look at how tough Uncaptured will be next week in the Prince of Wales at Fort Erie based on his effort in the Dandy. He is a stalking type horse so I'm sure he won't let Palace Malice get away with easy fractions.
I'm looking for this to be Mylute's breakout race of the summer. He should savor the 9-furlongs and I think with Freedom Child in the race, Palace Malice will have to work on the front end. I think Code West will face a class test and will need one before playing him harder in the Travers if he does well in here.
Post Time Outlook (Jim Dandy): 1 - Mylute; 2 - Palace Malice; 3- Code West
Gene Kershner, a Buffalo-based turf writer, is a member of the National Turf Writers and Broadcasters Association, and tweets @EquiSpace.