Plenty of Options for Bayern after Haskell Win

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Welcome to the first edition of my blog Keeping Pace. I’ll largely be focused on the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series through the fall.

If you guessed that the first three Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In,” qualifiers to this year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) would be Moonshine Mullin, Majestic Harbor, and Bayern--and found someone to book that action--I hope you’re enjoying your Caribbean vacation.

Bayern became the latest horse to punch his Classic ticket when he rolled to a front-running score in the William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) July 27 at Monmouth Park, drawing off in the stretch to post a 7 ¼-length victory. Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert suddenly finds his Breeders’ Cup options for Bayern ranging from the six-furlong Sprint (gr. I), to the Dirt Mile (gr. I), to accepting the automatic bid to the 1 ¼-mile Classic.

Haskell winner Bayern - Photo by Chad B. Harmon

Baffert had been considering sprints for the son of Offlee Wild after his 7 ½-length romp in the Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont Park, but the trainer credited rider Gary Stevens with backing one more route try for Bayern. Given the opportunity, Bayern delivered in the 1 1/8-mile Haskell against other 3-year-olds.

With the back-to-back victories by a combined 14 ¾ lengths, Baffert could stretch out Bayern again in the 1 ¼-mile Travers Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 23 at Saratoga Race Course or keep him at 1 1/8 miles in the Pennsylvania Derby (gr. II) Sept. 20 at Parx. Bayern failed to place in his only classic start, the 1 3/16-mile Preakness Stakes (gr. I), but he could not use his early speed in that race after bobbling at the start and being pinched back.

How good is Bayern going? Besides the runaway victories in the previous two efforts, consider that he has reached the wire first in three of his past four starts, all graded stakes. He was disqualified to second in the Derby Trial Stakes (gr. III) April 26 at Churchill Downs.

In the Woody Stephens, Bayern was the only horse to win while on or near the lead June 7 at Belmont Park. He dueled within a head of the lead at first call and then added to his advantage to the wire. In the other eight dirt races conducted on that Belmont Stakes day card, the average first-call race position of the winner was 5.5 and they were 4.8 lengths off the lead. In other words, that track was not playing to speed.

Haskell day at Monmouth was a more speed-favoring surface with three gate-to-wire winners, and three other winners who raced second, while within a length of the lead, in the card's nine dirt races.

If Baffert determines Bayern is up to the challenge of facing older horses going 1 ¼ miles in the Classic, at the very least Bayern would add a significant pace presence. Baffert of course also trains early-running, multiple grade I winner Game On Dude. Perhaps one of the two would be sent to the Dirt Mile. Baffert has some time. Race outcomes in the coming months likely will clarify the decision.

Bayern is Baffert’s seventh Haskell winner but none of the previous six winners went on to win a Breeders’ Cup race. The top Classic effort registered by any of the six was Lookin At Lucky, who wrapped up a second divisional championship with a fourth-place finish.

Bayern’s Haskell victory came at the expense of 7-5 favorite Untapable, who finished fifth in her efforts to defeat males and become just the third filly to win the Haskell. To me, the two-time grade I winner didn’t look great in the post parade. She then had a rough start when she broke inward and bumped with Social Inclusion, who looked washed out in the post parade and acted up in the gate. Untapable then raced wide in the first turn. In short, it wasn’t her day.

The 3-year-old filly who did make headlines by beating the boys over the weekend was Investec Epsom Oaks (gr. I) winner Taghrooda, who defeated older males in the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes sponsored by QIPCO (gr. I) July 26 at Ascot. She is just the second horse to win those two races in the same year.

As a Breeders' Cup Challenge race, the victory punches Taghrooda’s ticket to the Breeders’ Cup Turf (gr. IT), but she may be unlikely to make the trip. After the race, trainer John Gosden, a four-time Breeders' Cup winner, mentioned the Oct. 5 Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (Fr-I) as a target.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes runner-up Telescope will be pointed to the Breeders’ Cup Turf. His connections believe the 4-year-old Galileo colt will enjoy the firm turf at Santa Anita.

One of the telling details about this year’s Bing Crosby Stakes (gr. I) on July 27, which for the final time was contested on Polytrack as Del Mar will return to dirt next season, is that the race is a “Win and You’re In,” for the Turf Sprint (gr. IT). Winner Big Macher, who picked up his first grade I win, appears more likely for the Sprint as the 4-year-old Beau Genius gelding entered off a victory in the Potrero Grande Stakes (gr. II) on the dirt at Santa Anita. Sadly, Beau Genius died July 25.

Upcoming Challenge races

After 3-year-olds had a “Win and You’re In” shot last weekend in the Haskell, older horses will get the chance to punch their Classic ticket this weekend as the Whitney Handicap (gr. I) at Saratoga Race Course is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge race. Metropolitan Handicap (gr. I) winner Palace Malice figures to be the Whitney favorite. Among the others likely to be entered are Will Take Charge, Itsmyluckyday, Departing, Moreno, and Golden Ticket.

At Del Mar, a Breeders’ Cup Distaff (gr. I) bid will be on the line in the Clement L. Hirsch Handicap (gr. I), a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares on the Polytrack.

Breeders’ Cup Challenge on television

For the second straight weekend, racing will get network exposure as NBC plans to broadcast the Whitney Handicap Aug. 2. from Saratoga. The program will begin at 5 p.m. and also will feature coverage of the Test Stakes (gr. I) from Saratoga for 3-year-old filly sprinters.


Automatic bids earned through challenge wins


Horse, Sire, Challenge race, track

Bayern (KY), by Offlee Wild, William Hill Haskell Invitational S. (gr. I), Monmouth Park

Majestic Harbor (KY), by Rockport Harbor, The Gold Cup at Santa Anita S. (gr. I), Santa Anita Park

Moonshine Mullin (KY), by Albert the Great, Stephen Foster H. (gr. I), Churchill Downs

Dirt Mile

Horse, Sire, Challenge race, track

Bronzo (CHI), by Fusaichi Pegasus, Copa de Oro Vinas de Chile (Chi-II), Club Hipico de Santiago
Palace Malice (KY), by Curlin, Metropolitan H., Belmont Park


Horse, Sire, Challenge race, track

Close Hatches (KY), by First Defence, Ogden Phipps S. (gr. I), Belmont Park

Valiant Emilia (PER), by Pegasus Wind, Clasico Cesar del Rio Suito (Per-III), Hipodromo de Monterrico

Filly & Mare Turf

Horse, Sire, Challenge race, track

Beach Beauty (SAF), by Dynasty, Maine Chance Farms Paddock S. (SAf-I), Kenilworth

Minorette (KY), by Smart Strike, Belmont Oaks Invitational S. (gr. IT), Belmont Park


Horse, Sire, Challenge race, track

Capetown Noir (SAF), by Western Winter, L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (SAf-I), Kenilworth

Obviously (IRE), by Choisir, Shoemaker Mile (gr. IT), Santa Anita Park

Sacred Falls (NZ), by O’Reilly, The Star Doncaster Mile (Aus-I), Kenilworth


Horse, Sire, Challenge race, track

Bal a Bali (BRZ), by Put It Back, Gran Premio Brasil (Brz-I), Hipodromo da Gavea

Gold Ship (JPN), by Stay Gold, Takarazuka Kinen (Jpn-I), Hanshin Racecourse

It’s a Dundeel (NZ), by High Chaparral, Longines Queen Elizabeth S. (Aus-I), Randwick

Main Sequence (KY), by Aldebaran, United Nations Stakes (gr. IT), Monmouth Park

Sir Winsalot (ARG), by Lasting Approval, Gran Premio 25 de Mayo (Arg-I), San Isidro

Taghrooda (GB), by Sea The Stars, King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes sponsored by QIPCO (Eng-I), Ascot

Turf Sprint

Horse, Sire, Challenge race, track

Big Macher (CA), Beau Genius, Bing Crosby S. (gr. I), Del Mar

Lankan Rupee (AUS), by Redoute’s Choice, Darley T. J. Smith S. (Aus-I), Randwick

Automatic bids by state or country bred
Kentucky 7
New Zealand 2
South Africa 2
Argentina  1
Australia 1
Brazil 1
Chile  1
California 1
England 1
Ireland 1
Japan 1
Peru 1

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