April 23, 2018

Girvin noses out McCraken for Haskell triumph

Girvin (left) and jockey Robby Albarado win the 50th edition of the Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park on Sunday, July 30, 2017 in a thrilling finish with McCraken (right) and Practical Joke (center) (c) Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

A crowd of 35,303 gathered at Monmouth Park on Sunday as some of the best of this year’s sophomores lined up for the $1,010,000 Haskell Invitational (G1), including Grade 1 hero Practical Joke, Belmont Stakes (G1) runner-up Irish War Cry and Kentucky Derby (G1) third-placer Battle of Midway.

Brad Grady’s Girvin denied them all the win when rallying under jockey Robby Albarado to score the nose victory over Grade 2 scorer McCraken on the wire of the nine-furlong affair.

Girvin took himself out of the picture early, setting in last as Battle of Midway and Timeline duked it out up front through splits of :23.93, :47.34 and 1:11.25. Irish War Cry sat just off Timeline’s flank as the pair dueled down the backstretch, and ranged up on the outside nearing the turn.

McCraken had begun his move as well, and found himself outside Irish War Cry in the four path. The quartet ran in tandem around the bend, but McCraken and Irish War Cry separated themselves from the early leaders upon hitting the lane.

Meanwhile, Girvin had also started to run nearing the bend, but found the foursome blocking his way and was forced to wait. Albarado didn’t panic, just stayed within range on the Tale of Ekati colt and hit the button when the way cleared in the lane.

Girvin rallied powerfully down the center of the track with Practical Joke clinging close to his inside. McCraken was the leader at this point, and appeared on his way to the winner’s circle, but Girvin dug in and stuck his nose in front on the wire to stop the clock in 1:48.35 over the fast main track.

McCraken just held second by a half-length over Practical Joke, who was 4 3/4 lengths up on Irish War Cry. Timeline followed another three lengths back in fifth, while a half-length up on fellow early front runner Battle of Midway. Sunland Derby (G3) and Iowa Derby (G3) winner Hence, the 19-1 longest shot on the board, was never in the race and filled the last spot.

Girvin was sent off at the second longest odds of 9-1 in the Haskell, and returned $20.40 to his faithful backers. The Joe Sharp trainee improved his scorecard to 7-4-2-0 and joined the millionaire’s club having now banked $1,574,400.

The dark bay colt began his career at Fair Grounds, breaking his maiden by a head last December in his debut and finishing a close second in the grassy Keith Gee Memorial Stakes while making his sophomore bow on February 4. He returned to the main track to capture the Risen Star Stakes (G2) next out and earned his shot at Kentucky Derby glory with a 1 1/4-length score in the Louisiana Derby (G2) on April 1.

Girvin ventured outside of Fair Grounds for the first time in the May 6 Kentucky Derby, and suffered a terrible trip to wind up 13th on the Churchill Downs wire. Given time to recover from that experience, he was sent off the 4-5 favorite last out in the June 24 Ohio Derby (G3) at Thistledown and just missed by a nose to next-out Indiana Derby (G3) romper Irap.

Bred in Kentucky by Bob Austin and John Witte, Girvin is out of the unraced Malibu Moon mare Catch the Moon, making him a half-brother to Grade 3 scorer Cocked and Loaded. This female line also includes Grade 1 victor Silver Max, Canadian champion Kiss a Native and successful Grade 1-winning sire Yes It’s True.

HASKELL INVITATIONAL QUOTES

Joe Sharp, trainer Girvin, winner

“(Owner) Brad (Grady) and I talked after the Kentucky Derby (G1), and we thought it was right by Girvin to give him a freshening. We thought the Ohio Derby (G3) was a good spot for him and close to home (at Churchill Downs). From his effort there, we thought he deserved a shot in the Haskell. He was such a confident horse today.”

Robby Albarado, jockey Girvin, winner

“We talked about it in the paddock and we were all on the same page. We thought the three horses to the inside would be the speed. He started to settle into his stride on the backside. I just tried to get him to the outside and keep up his momentum.”

Brad Grady, owner Girvin, winner

“This is my favorite track. Monmouth Park always rolls out the red carpet. I love the older track feel. The family is here and it’s a family environment. I just love it.”

Ian Wilkes, trainer McCraken, second

“It’s a tough beat any time but especially in a Grade 1.”

Brian Hernandez Jr., jockey McCraken, second

“He ran great today. Turning for home he put in a huge run and I thought we might have it, but he just couldn’t hold off that other horse. It just wasn’t our day, but we have to be so proud of our horse.”

Chad Brown, trainer Practical Joke (3rd) and Timeline (5th)

“Timeline missed the break and that got him out of sorts. He rushed up and got in between horses. That just wasn’t the trip we wanted and unfortunately that did him in.

“Practical Joke ran very well. He was right there at the wire in a three-way photo. He gave it his all.

“The two horses that finished ahead of Practical Joke ran outstanding. It’s just unfortunate there had to be a loser among them.”

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