In last Saturday’s Grade I Haskell Stakes, Cyberknife dramatically got the victory by edging Taiba. Another exciting stretch battle could be in the offing when sophomores clash in Grade II Jim Dandy Stakes this Saturday (July 30).
If you are looking for quantity, the Jim Dandy is not for you. But if you appreciate quality, the Jim Dandy is a race that you will embrace.
The Jim Dandy, which serves as Saratoga’s springboard to the Grade I, $1.25 million Travers Stakes on Aug 27, has lured just five entrants. The small cast notwithstanding, I think this Jim Dandy truly is a dandy.
From the inside rail out, the field is comprised of Western River, Epicenter, Tawny Port, Early Voting and Zandon.
The way I see it, the Jim Dandy has a Big 3 consisting of Grade I Preakness Stakes winner Early Voting and Grade I Kentucky Derby two-three finishers Epicenter and Zandon.
Talk about consistency. The Big 3 have finished third or better in 16 of 17 starts combined. The lone unplaced finish came in Epicenter’s debut as a 2-year-old when he ran sixth.
Count me as a member of the Early Voting fan club. As such, I feel compelled to make him my top pick in the Jim Dandy.
One of the reasons I’m going with Early Voting is his improving Beyer Speed Figure pattern.
Early Voting recorded a 76 Beyer in his Aqueduct maiden special weight victory at one mile when unveiled last year on Dec. 18. That was followed by what originally was only a slight increase to a 78 Beyer when he won the Grade III Withers Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on a muddy track. That came in his second career start Feb. 5 at the Big A.
But before Early Voting made his third career start, the Beyer Speed Figure for his 4 1/2-length win in the Withers received a substantial boost. On March 15, Daily Racing Form’s David Grening reported that the Beyer Speed Figures for the horses who ran in the Withers had been elevated by nine points.
That raised Early Voting’s Withers figure to an 87.
In his next race, Early Voting showed substantial improvement in the Beyer Speed Figure department all on his own. The Kentucky-bred Gun Runner colt was credited with a 96 Beyer. But he didn’t win. He finished second, a neck behind Mo Donegal, in Aqueduct’s Grade II Wood Memorial at 1 1/8 miles on April 9.
The two horses involved in the Wood exacta would both go on to win a Triple Crown event.
Early Voting registered a 1 1/4-length victory in Pimlico’s Grade I Preakness Stakes at 1 3/16 miles on May 21. Epicenter finished second. Once again Early Voting took his Beyer game to a higher level, receiving a robust 105 for his Preakness performance.
After Mo Donegal finished fifth in the Kentucky Derby, he won the Grade I Belmont Stakes by three lengths at 1 1/2 miles on June 11. He recorded a career-best 98 Beyer. The filly Nest finished second in the Belmont, then was dazzling when she won Belmont’s Grade I Coaching Club American Oaks by 12 1/4 lengths at 1 1/8 miles last Saturday. That effort produced a career-best 104 Beyer.
Chad Brown trains Early Voting and Zandon. Hall of Famer Steve Asmussen is the trainer of Epicenter.
Winner of the Grade II Risen Star Stakes and Grade II Louisiana Derby earlier this year, Epicenter looked like he was on his way to a Kentucky Derby victory when leading by one length with a furlong to go. But he had to settle for second when not quite able to stave off 80-1 longshot Rich Strike.
Epicenter comes into the Jim Dandy having reeled off three consecutive triple-digit Beyers. The Kentucky-bred Not This Time colt recorded a 102 in the Louisiana Derby, a 100 in the Kentucky Derby, then a 102 in the Preakness.
Zandon has yet to post a triple-digit Beyer Speed Figure, but he’s been knocking on the door. He received a 98 Beyer when he won Keeneland’s Grade I Blue Grass Stakes by 2 1/2 lengths at 1 1/8 miles on April 9, then duplicated that figure when third in the Kentucky Derby.
One gets the feeling that it is only a matter of time before Zandon gets a Beyer of 100 or higher. Perhaps the Kentucky-bred Upstart colt will do so in the Jim Dandy.
Warning: Dismiss Grade III Ohio Derby winner Tawny Port in the Jim Dandy at your own peril.
Most people viewed the Haskell as a two-horse race between Jack Christopher and Taiba. But it turned out to be 7-1 Cyberknife who was posing for pictures in the winner’s circle.
What do Tawny Port and Cyberknife have in common? They both are trained by Brad Cox.
My selections for this year’s Haskell Stakes are below:
1. Early Voting
4. Tawny Port
A BATTLE TO THE WIRE IN THE HASKELL
As mentioned earlier, Cyberknife was a narrow winner over Taiba in last Saturday’s Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park. Jack Christopher finished third as the 3-5 favorite, his first defeat in five lifetime starts.
Cyberknife is yet another example of Cox’s skill as a trainer.
Early on, Cyberknife showed that he had talent. But he also proved to be quite a challenge for Cox.
When Cyberknife made his stakes debut in Fair Grounds’ Grade III Lecomte last Jan. 22, I picked him third in the selections that I made for Xpressbet.com. This was what I wrote about him:
“It appears that while Cyberknife has a lot of raw talent, he also is something of a work in progress for Brad Cox, the Eclipse Award-winning trainer of 2020 and one of the three finalists for this award in 2021, along with Asmussen and Chad Brown.
“Cyberknife has been something of a goofball in each of his three starts so far. After he finished first by a half-length at Churchill in his Sept. 25 debut at six furlongs, the 6-5 favorite was disqualified and placed second for causing interference.
“In his second start, Cyberknife’s greenness contributed to his half-length defeat as a 2-5 favorite in a 6 1/2-furlong maiden special weight race on Nov. 5. And then in his New Orleans debut, Cyberknife won by a half-length as a 1-2 favorite going 1 1/16 miles vs. maiden special weight foes on Dec. 26.
“An indication of Cyberknife being a work in progress is his blinkers situation. He raced with blinkers in his first race, then competed sans blinkers in his next two starts. Now the blinkers are going back on for the Lecomte.”
Cox had said this of Cyberknife before the Lecomte in a Daily Racing Form story written by Marcus Hersh: “He’s very talented. He can run -- he showed that in all three starts. He has always been a handful and can be a little tough to ride. Not a mean horse or anything, just a very, very good-feeling horse that expresses himself in a very outward manner at times. He likes to rear up, for one thing.
“He was really tough to deal with at Saratoga. He’s gotten a lot better. He’ll have a good week, week and a half, but he still has his days. He’s just a horse if you school him in the paddock, you do it twice; gate the same thing. We try to keep him busy. But I like the horse a lot.”
I wrote “for Cox to say he likes Cyberknife ‘a lot’ is quite meaningful in that he has trained the likes of Monomoy Girl, Knicks Go and Essential Quality.”
Cyberknife finished sixth in the Lecomte, then won his next two races. He won a Fair Grounds allowance/optional claiming contest by three lengths on Feb. 29. Next, he punched his ticket to the Kentucky Derby with a 2 3/4-length triumph in the Grade I Arkansas Derby at Oaklawn Park on April 2.
In the Kentucky Derby, Cyberknife finished 18th in the field of 20. He rebounded to eke out a nose victory in the Grade III Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs on Jan. 12. And that set him up for the Haskell, which was unquestionably his best performance yet.
It’s clear based on what we saw from Cyberknife in the Haskell that he is maturing into more focused equine athlete. Cyberknife also benefitted from what was nothing less than a stellar ride on the part of Florent Geroux.
“Cyberknife in his early starts tended to race erratically, but in the Haskell he turned in a thoroughly professional performance,” the DRF’s Hersh wrote. “Geroux had horse underneath him the entire trip and kept Cyberknife along the rail down the backstretch, slipping into the space Taiba had occupied when that colt was taken outside past the five-furlong marker. Cyberknife rallied willingly up the rail in the homestretch, finishing slightly better than Taiba.”
Al Gold owns Cyberknife. To win a Haskell was especially meaningful for the owner, who bought the colt for $400,000 as a yearling. Gold has had a box seat at Monmouth for decades.
“This is a very big victory,” Gold said in the track’s stakes quotes (without using any profanity, unlike his comments live on the CNBC telecast). “The Arkansas Derby was very big and the Haskell is also. This is a very big deal for me personally. I started betting horses when I was a kind and have owned horses for 40 years. You always have fantasies. You want to win the Kentucky Derby and all the big races, but this is one of the ones I really wanted to win.”
Next for Cyberknife is the Travers.
Taiba was my top pick in the Haskell. Off as the second choice in the betting at 2-1, he began alertly, then stalked in the early going while racing inside. This inside trip early pretty much occurred as a consequence of breaking from post 2.
It looked like Taiba was not all that interested in running on the backstretch when racing on the inside and getting dirt thrown back into his face. This brings to mind what happened with Taiba when he finished 12th (25 lengths in front of Cyberknife) in the Run for the Roses. As I wrote in my Kentucky Derby recap for Xpressbet.com: “Taiba did not look comfortable early when getting dirt in his face in a race for the first time.”
RACING INSIDE ISN’T FOR EVERYBODY
Some racehorses just don’t like racing inside opponents. Tiz the Law is a recent example. His first defeat came when he had an inside trip and finished third as a 3-5 favorite in the Grade II Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes at Churchill Downs in 2019.
A year later, Tiz the Law was sent away as the 3-1 favorite in the Grade I Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland. In my selections for Xpressbet.com, I didn’t pick him 1-2-3. I noted that a main reason for that “was he drew post 2” and “I thought he might not get a trip to his liking if forced to race inside rivals.”
Tiz the Law finished sixth in the BC Classic.
“As it turned out, regular rider Manny Franco never could get Tiz the Law to the outside and in the clear, which seems to be the colt’s preference,” I wrote in my BC Classic recap for Xpressbet.com. “It appeared to me that Tiz the Law was not enjoying himself in the early furlongs when rank while close up and racing along the inside rail. Tiz the Law, who had been third early, dropped back to fifth on the far turn and lacked a kick in the lane. He lost by 5 1/2 lengths.”
Back in the 1970s one of the best horses to ever race in the Pacific Northwest, Turbulator, also did not like racing inside opponents. When he had an inside trip as a 3-5 favorite in the 1970 British Columbia Handicap at Longacres, he failed to generate his usual late kick and finished fourth to Strong Award, Birch Bay and Ruler’s Whirl. Those were three horses Turbulator beat numerous other times.
In the 1970 Longacres Mile, the richest race in that part of the country, Turbulator was backed down to 6-5 favoritism. He finished fifth. It actually was a minor miracle that he finished the race at all. That’s because jockey Larry Pierce’s left stirrup iron broke leaving the gate.
“Just before I got to the first turn, I reached down to put my foot in the stirrup, and I realized there was no stirrup!” Pierce recalled when I interviewed him years later.
Entering the backstretch, while Turbulator was ninth in the field of 13, Pierce’s right foot came out of the stirrup. Pierce was now riding with both legs dangling before he managed to get his right foot back in the stirrup on the backstretch.
After all that, Pierce then found himself boxed in on the far turn when Turbulator was racing on the inside.
“The horse had gone through so much already, and now he’s trapped,” Pierce said. I kept looking to get him to the outside, but he stayed trapped all the way to the end.”
Remarkably, Turbulator lost by only 2 1/2 lengths. It’s considered the most famous loss in history at a track in the Pacific Northwest.
Pierce believed that Turbulator being forced to run on the inside in the final three furlongs was more of a reason for his 1970 Longacres Mile defeat than the broken stirrup.
“I really believe that if I had just been able to somehow get him to the outside, he would’ve won,” Pierce told me years later in my interview with him.
Two weeks before the Longacres Mile, Turbulator had been way on the outside on the far turn and coming into the stretch. Nevertheless, he won the 6 1/2-furlong Governor’s Handicap in a final time of 1:14 flat, which broke the world record by two-fifths of a second. The key was Pierce keeping Turbulator outside and in the clear, even though that meant having to race extremely wide.
“We had clear sailing and when we moved, I had a lot of horse,” Pierce was quoted as saying by Russell L. Brown in his column that appeared in the Daily Racing Form two days after Turbulator’s world-record performance. “I saw the inside was tight so I went to the outside, but they took me wider than I wanted to go.”
Despite being fanned so wide into the lane, Turbulator loved being out in the clear and unleashed a powerful rally to win the Governor’s Handicap. That was in contrast to his losses that year in the British Columbia Handicap and Longacres Mile when he was uncomfortable while racing inside.
TAIBA RALLIES ONCE HE GETS OUTSIDE
In the Haskell, after Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith maneuvered the lightly raced Taiba to the outside and into the clear on the far turn, the $1.7 million auction purchase rallied. When Taiba came on with gusto in upper stretch to get the lead leaving the eighth pole, it appeared that he might well be on his way to becoming Baffert’s 10th Haskell winner. But Taiba lost by a head.
“I thought he was going to win,” Baffert was quoted in a Sunday story written by Lynne Snierson of the Monmouth publicity staff. “It was tough to come up short because I really thought when he made that move and put his little head down, he was going to get there.”
My impression when watching the race was Taiba might have thought he won. It appeared to me that in the run to the finish, with Cyberknife hugging the rail and Taiba about three paths out from the rail, Taiba might not have known Cyberknife was there. Baffert evidently saw it much the same as I did.
“I think he just didn’t see that horse [Cyberknife],” Baffert told Snierson. “It was a great ride by Florent. Flo stayed back there and cut the corner…[Taiba] was stuck down there [on the backstretch] and he was not happy being stuck behind horses. I was really worried at about the three-eighths pole. Mike said that when he got him out in the clear, he just kicked in.”
I liked the way Taiba galloped out after the finish. On the gallop-out, Taiba led Cyberknife by about a length to 1 1/2 lengths to the clubhouse turn.
SHORTER RACE NEXT FOR JACK CHRISTOPHER
As for Haskell favorite Jack Christopher, even though he did not win, it’s not as if he was disgraced. He lost by two lengths while racing farther than one mile for the first time. His pedigree has suggested all along that he might not be as effective beyond one mile.
Trainer Chad Brown said that rather than Jack Christopher going on to the 1 1/4-mile Travers, the colt will cut back in distance and run in the Grade I Allen Jerkens Stakes at seven furlongs on the same day as the Travers.
WHITE ABARRIO NEVER PROMINENT
No doubt White Abarrio’s connections and horseplayers who played him at 7-1 were disappointed by his Haskell effort. He finished seventh in the field of eight, 34 1/4 lengths behind Cyberknife.
As mentioned earlier, Cyberknife ended up 18th in the Kentucky Derby. White Abarrio ran 16th.
Earlier this year, White Abarrio won a pair of graded stakes races at Gulfstream Park, the Grade III Holy Bull and Grade I Florida Derby.
CYBERKNIFE BREAKS TRACK RECORD
On a lightning-fast main track, Cyberknife’s final time in the Haskell was 1:46.24. This broke the track record of 1:46.24 set earlier in the card in the eighth race when 4-year-old Highly Motivated won the Grade III Monmouth Cup in 1:46.53.
Highly Motivated broke the longstanding track record of 1:46 4/5 established by Spend a Buck in 1985 in the pre-hundredths days. Spend a Buck, the Eclipse Award-winning 3-year-old male of 1985, set the mark of 1:46 4/5 when he won the Grade I Monmouth Handicap by a scant nose while facing older foes for the first and only time in his career.
The reason Spend a Buck competed in the Monmouth Handicap instead of the Travers Stakes is Lasix was not permitted in New York at that time. Spend a Buck had “bled after [winning] the Haskell,” Joe Hirsch wrote in the American Racing Manual. Owner Dennis Diaz “told newsman the bleeding was more serious on this occasion than the trickle of blood that occurred after the colt won the Garden State Stakes in April. The bleeding after the Haskell prompted a change in plans. Spend a Buck was scheduled to van to Saratoga on the day after the Haskell to run in the Travers Stakes, but the trip was called off and Spend a Buck remained in New Jersey, which permits the use of the bleeder medication furosemide [Lasix].”
After Spend a Buck’s slim win in the Haskell Handicap, he never raced again. The plan had been to run him in the Pennsylvania Derby at Philadelphia Park (now Parx Racing), but the colt emerged from a workout four days before that race with an injury to his right foreleg. The day before the Pennsylvania Derby, Spend a Buck’s retirement from racing was announced. He won 10 of 15 career starts.
HIGHEST BEYER YET FOR HASKELL WINNER
Cyberknife received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure for his win in the Haskell, exceeding his previous top of 94 for his victory in the Winn.
Below are the Beyers for the Haskell winners going back to 1991:
2022 Cyberknife (102)
2021 Mandaloun (102)*
2020 Authentic (100)
2019 Maximum Security (102)
2018 Good Magic (98)
2017 Girvin (95)
2016 Exaggerator (101)
2015 American Pharoah (109)
2014 Bayern (111)
2013 Verrazano (116)
2012 Paynter (107)
2011 Coil (96)
2010 Lookin At Lucky (106)
2009 Rachel Alexandra (116)
2008 Big Brown (106)
2007 Any Given Saturday (113)
2006 Bluegrass Cat (106)
2005 Roman Ruler (108)
2004 Lion Heart (109)
2003 Peace Rules (109)
2002 War Emblem (112)
2001 Point Given (106)
2000 Dixie Union (111)
1999 Menifee (110)
1998 Coronado’s Quest (110)
1997 Touch Gold (114)
1996 Skip Away (113)
1995 Serena’s Song (110)
1994 Holy Bull (115)
1993 Kissin Kris (108)
1992 Technology (108)
1991 Lost Mountain (107)
*Mandaloun finished second, then was elevated to first via the disqualification of Hot Rod Charlie, who also received a 102 Beyer Speed Figure
THIS WEEK’S NTRA TOP THOROUGHBRED POLL
In the wake of Nest’s 12 1/4-length tour de force in the CCA Oaks, she makes her way onto the Top 10 in the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week at No. 8 after being No. 25 last week. Following Jack Christopher’s defeat in the Haskell, he drops out of the Top 10 after being No. 9 last week.
The Top 10 on the NTRA Top Thoroughbred Poll this week is below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 285 Flightline (19)
2. 257 Life Is Good (5)
3. 261 Olympiad (5)
4. 180 Jackie’s Warrior
5. 181 Country Grammer (1)
6. 116 Clairiere
7. 78 Regal Glory
8. 56 Nest
9. 48 Hot Rod Charlie
10. 43 Letruska
LONGINES BREEDERS’ CUP CLASSIC RANKINGS
Haskell winner Cyberknife moves into the Top 10 this week in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic Rankings.
This week’s rankings are below:
Rank Points Horse (First-Place Votes)
1. 235 Flightline (20)
2. 197 Olympiad (2)
3. 194 Life Is Good (3)
4. 151 Country Grammer
5. 111 Hot Rod Charlie
6. 72 Epicenter
7. 69 Cyberknife
8. 64 Early Voting
9. 38 Charge It
10. 33 Dynamic One