Haskell S. (G1) — Race 12 (5:45 p.m. ET)
From their time facing each other in New Orleans last winter and in Kentucky this spring, Hot Rod Charlie, Mandaloun, and Midnight Bourbon are fairly well acquainted. Which of these colts will kick off the second half of their three-year-old campaign with bragging rights, and an automatic bid to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar in November, will be determined in Saturday’s $1 million Haskell S. (G1) at Monmouth Park.
Hot Rod Charlie, who was installed as the 6-5 morning line favorite, will attempt to do something in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell that he hasn’t yet done, which is win without wearing blinkers. The son of Oxbow has won or placed in all six outings while sporting them.
Victorious in the Louisiana Derby (G2) over Mandaloun and Midnight Bourbon in late March, Hot Rod Charlie finished third, a half-length behind Mandaloun, in the Kentucky Derby (G1), and then turned a terrific effort to finish a clear second in the Belmont S. (G1) to Essential Quality after setting a strong pace in the 1 1/2-mile classic.
Mandaloun, who could eventually be awarded victory in the Kentucky Derby, pending the legal proceedings against first-place finisher Medina Spirit, was installed as the 2-1 second choice. Mandaloun made his only post-Derby appearance in the June 13 Pegasus S. at Monmouth, winning by a neck. Current whip usage rules at Monmouth prohibit its use for encouragement purposes, which might have lessened the superiority Mandaloun might have exhibited otherwise against that softer field.
Midnight Bourbon, actually the fourth choice on the morning line at 9-2, seeks his first win since the Jan. 16 Lecomte (G3). Second in both the Risen Star (G2), to Mandaloun, and the Louisiana Derby (G2), he didn’t get a clean trip when a rallying sixth in the Kentucky Derby. However, the Steve Asmussen trainee rebounded to finish second in the Preakness (G1) after applying strong pressure early to Medina Spirit, who weakened to third.
Stakes newcomer Following Sea, from the barn of Todd Pletcher, was installed the 3-1 third choice on the morning line and has much to overcome to justify that amount of early support. Although an impressive winner against maiden and allowance foes in his last two starts, the son of sprint champion Runhappy races for the first time beyond 6 1/2 furlongs in a difficult spot.
Pickin’ Time has been beaten double-digit margins in three outings since taking the Nashua (G3) last November over a one-turn mile at Aqueduct. He previously won the Smoke Glacken S. at Monmouth over Basso, who was unplaced against entry-level allowance foes in his only prior start this season. Antigravity, who lost his first 10 starts, enters on a two-race winning streak, but looks up against it as much as Pickin’ Time and Basso.