By Joe Bianca
The runners-up in all three Triple Crown races—though one of them may be promoted to winner at a later date—will clash along with a very intriguing stretch-out sprinter Saturday at Monmouth in a quality renewal of the GI TVG.com Haskell S., a “Win and You're In” qualifier for the GI Longines Breeders' Cup Classic.
Pegged as the 6-5 morning-line favorite is Hot Rod Charlie (Oxbow), who ran the best race of the three Triple Crown returnees when finishing a hard-luck second to division leader Essential Quality (Tapit) in the GI Belmont S. June 5. Pushed through a scorching early pace of :22.78 and :46.49, the $110,000 Fasig-Tipton October bargain buy improbably fought on with tenacity until deep stretch, just being overtaken late for a 1 1/4-length defeat while finishing 11 1/4 lengths clear of GI Preakness S. hero Rombauer (Twirling Candy) in third. The two horses who fought him for the early lead finished sixth and eighth, beaten 22 and 81 lengths, respectively. Prior to that, Hot Rod Charlie had annexed the GII Twinspires.com Louisiana Derby, run third in the GI Kentucky Derby and GIII Robert B. Lewis and second at 94-1 in the GI TVG Breeders' Cup Juvenile.
Mandaloun (Into Mischief) is likely to be declared the Derby winner after running a half-length second to Medina Spirit (Protonico), who later famously tested over the limit for betamethasone. That was a bounce-back effort for the 'TDN Rising Star' after he was a badly-beaten sixth as a 13-10 favorite in the Louisiana Derby. Earlier the winner of the GII Risen Star S. at Fair Grounds, the Juddmonte homebred was last seen holding on by a neck in the local Pegasus S. June 13.
“What this would do for this colt moving forward would be huge,” said trainer Brad Cox of winning the Haskell. “It would give him an opportunity to stand at Juddmonte, which is the goal, and when you win that first Grade I, it takes the pressure off of what you do moving forward. This would be huge for the whole Juddmonte team. It would mean the world to me. I love this colt, he's been one we've thought a lot of since late summer/early fall, and when you watch him train and you think they're good and then they show up, it's very rewarding. For him to accomplish what he has to date is amazing, but there are definitely some more hurdles to jump and we think he's capable of doing it.”
Winless since capturing the GIII Lecomte S. Jan. 16 at Fair Grounds, Winchell Thoroughbreds' Midnight Bourbon (Tiznow) was third to Mandaloun in the Risen Star and second to Hot Rod Charlie in the Louisiana Derby. Sixth with a wide trip in the Run for the Roses, the $525,000 Keeneland September buy held the place after pressing Medina Spirit through quick splits when last seen in the May 15 Preakness S.
The clear wild card in the race is immensely talented 'Rising Star' Following Sea (Runhappy), who will make his two-turn debut while breaking from the tricky rail draw. A runner-up, later demoted to third via disqualification debuting at 9-10 over six furlongs Mar. 6 at Santa Anita, the Spendthrift Farm earned his 'Rising Star' nod with a dominant graduation over the same trip Apr. 10 at Oaklawn. Transferred from Bob Baffert to Todd Pletcher at the outset of the Medina Spirit controversy, Following Sea overwhelmed an allowance field June 3 at Belmont with an easy 6 1/2-length romp.