OCEANPORT, NJ – By the smallest of margins, Brad Grady’s Girvin flew up late and nosed out McCraken and Practical Joke to win Sunday’s Grade 1, $1,000,000 betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park.
Girvin and jockey Robby Albarado trailed the field of seven early, content to let Battle of Midway and Timeline set early fractions of :23.93, :47.34, and 1:11.25. Advancing between horses on the backstretch, Girvin moved up three-wide on the far turn as the field began to bunch up. Albarado and Girvin rallied steadily along the outside, surging down the lane in the stretch run and just catching McCraken and Practical Joke at the wire.
“I worked him last week up at the Spa and he was sharp,” Albarado said. “He showed that today. When he got in the clear in the stretch, he just kept coming and coming. I was so impressed with what he did today and I think he’s just going to get better and better.”
A standout in Louisiana who was winless everywhere else, Girvin most recently was on the opposite end of a nose-photo-finish in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby, a race in which he uncharacteristically took the lead entering the far turn and was eventually caught by Irap at the line.
“I’ve gotten beat in this race too many times, it’s great to finally win it,” said Albarado. “Point Given got me at the wire, and then I had Curlin. This is wonderful. McCraken got the jump on me and kept me inside, but my horse never lost momentum, so I wasn’t concerned. He’s really coming into his own right now.”
Speaking of horses uncharacteristically taking a lead earlier than usual, McCraken and longtime rider Brian Hernandez, Jr., found themselves on the front end after exiting the far turn following a strong four-wide move. Digging in gamely in the final furlong, they were nailed at the wire while racing along the rail.
“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,” said Hernandez, Jr. “It just wasn’t our day, but we have to be so proud of our horse.”
Undefeated in four tries at a distance of 1 mile or less, but zero-for-four when going any longer, Practical Joke tracked the pace in fourth for most of the race before moving up three-wide into the stretch. The Chad Brown trainee dug in gamely under jockey Joel Rosario and rallied late but was no match for the horses flanking him.
“Practical Joke ran very well,” said Brown. “He was right there at the wire in a three-way photo. He gave it his all. He had to pause a little turning for home, but other than that, he had a good, ground-saving trip. He was right there with a good fighting chance to win and it was a great race. The two horses that finished just ahead of Practical Joke ran outstanding, it’s just unfortunate there had to be a loser between them. Hat’s off to the connections of Girvin. In an evenly-matched race, they came out on top.”
The local favorite Irish War Cry raced close while running three-wide through both turns. Set down for the stretch drive, the New Jersey-bred failed to keep pace with the leaders and settled for fourth.
Coming into the race, the betting favorite at post time had won 24 of last 49 Haskells. Unfortunately for the previously-undefeated Timeline, it wasn’t meant to be 25 for 50. Breaking awkwardly, Timeline was soon running up front with Battle of Midway. Into the far turn, he suddenly found himself in a position he hadn’t been before – racing between horses – as the field began to turn for home. He and jockey Javier Castellano faded in the long stretch run and crossed in fifth.
“When he broke slow out of the gate, I knew I had to change all my plans,” said Castellano. “He’s never been in that position before, so I tried to cover up, tried to settle and put him behind horses, but he pulled me so hard. At some point, I had to let him go.”
Jockey Flavien Prat flew in from California to stay aboard Battle of Midway after he had a big Saturday at Del Mar, which included winning the Grade 1 Bing Crosby aboard Ransom the Moon. Unfortunately, the 3-year-old colt’s recent rise (finishing third in the Kentucky Derby before winning the Grade 3 Affirmed at Santa Anita) didn’t continue in the Haskell. After sharing the lead with Timeline into the far turn, he tired exiting and finished sixth.
Entering the race off of a strong, late-closing performance in the Grade 3 Iowa Derby, Hence was never a factor in the Haskell. Racing off the pace along the inside through both turns, he failed to rally when turning for home and finished 10 1/4 lengths behind in seventh.
As the winner of the Haskell, Girvin was awarded automatic entry into the 2017 Breeders’ Cup Classic, along with having pre-entry and entries fees waived for the race, and will receive a travel stipend because he is traveling from a base located outside the state of California.
Girvin returned $20.40 to win, $9.20 to place, and $4.80 to show. McCraken brought back $7.20 to place and $4.40 to show, while Practical Joke paid $3.80 to show.