By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman
Guess what? I'm picking Golden Brown to win the $1
million Haskell Invitational (gr. I) on Sunday at Monmouth Park.
I figured I might as well state that right off the top,
since it will probably require the remainder of this blog post to outline my reasoning
in a way that will convince you that I actually believe he has a chance to post
My thought process begins with my opinion that the field
for the 2018 Haskell is not the strongest in recent memory. I don't think anyone
will argue that the recently retired Triple Crown winner Justify was clearly
the most talented member of this foal crop, and in his absence, the Haskell
field is comprised primarily of horses that Justify defeated soundly in the
I am also of the opinion that Triple Crown winners are
more likely to emerge in years when the overall talent level of the top three-year-old
dirt horses is less than stellar. In other words, I think the fact that Justify
won the Triple Crown hints that his main rivals in the series might not have
been the toughest group overall, though obviously this opinion could prove to be
thoroughly unfounded. We'll learn more when these colts face older horses later
in the season.
Even still, I do have a lot of respect for Good Magic, the 6-5 favorite on the
morning line for the Haskell. If Justify is the most accomplished member of
this foal crop, then Good Magic has to be considered the clear runner-up at
this point. Thanks to a decisive victory in last year's Breeders' Cup Juvenile
(gr. I), he was named the champion two-year-old male of 2017, and his form this
season is more than solid. Three starts back, he won the Blue Grass Stakes (gr.
II) in workmanlike fashion, then finished a game second behind Justify in the
Kentucky Derby (gr. I), which was arguably the best effort of his career.
Two weeks later, Good Magic took on Justify again in the
Preakness Stakes (gr. I) and ran a gallant race in defeat. After engaging with
Justify is a prolonged and heated battle for the lead, Good Magic faded only
slightly in the final furlong to finish fourth by just one length.
But how much did Good Magic's Triple Crown efforts take
out of him? Both the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness were contested over
sloppy, sealed tracks that were testing on the competitors, and Good Magic ran
flat-out hard in the Preakness while changing up his running style and
attempting to take the race to Justify right from the start.
At the same time, I wonder if the ten-week gap between
the Preakness and the Haskell could be tricky for Good Magic. Chad Brown
trained this colt perfectly to peak in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile and the
Kentucky Derby, Good Magic's two best races to date, and I don't think it's a
coincidence that both races marked the third start of Good Magic's seasonal form
cycle. The gap between the Preakness and the Haskell could be more problematic—it's
not long enough to be truly considered time off following his strenuous Triple
Crown efforts, but it's long enough that I question whether Good Magic will be
fully cranked for the Haskell, especially with races like the Travers Stakes
(gr. I) and the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) looming on the horizon.
The bottom line is this—while I view Good Magic as a
deserving favorite in the Haskell and expect him to give a very good account of
himself, I don't view him as unbeatable, which is what his reputation (and
morning line odds) suggest. If he's at something less than his absolute best, I
don't think he holds much of an edge over this field and could be vulnerable to
I'm inclined to side against second choice Bravazo as well, and for many of the
same reasons. His career-best effort came when finishing second in the
Preakness Stakes, ahead of Good Magic, but he did take advantage of the
Justify/Good Magic pace duel that day and subsequently faltered when fading to
sixth place in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I).
Beliefs and Lone Sailor,
separated by just a nose when finishing 1-2 in the Ohio Derby (gr. III) last
month, would be the obvious contenders to step up and take advantage if Good
Magic and Bravazo falter. But Lone Sailor could only finish fifth with a great
setup in the Preakness and enjoyed another perfect trip in the Ohio Derby, and while
Core Beliefs ran a big race in the Ohio Derby—overcoming a wide trip to battle
on and win in game fashion—the race did not come back particularly fast on the
Beyer speed figure scale.
Commander won the Long Branch Stakes in gate-to-wire fashion at
Monmouth three weeks ago, but he benefited from setting extremely slow
fractions of :25.79, :51.57, and 1:15.55 and is unlikely to receive such an
ideal setup in the Haskell. In contrast, Roaming
Union was part of an honest pace in the Pegasus Stakes on June 17th
at Monmouth, but was still beaten a neck at the wire while running the final
five-sixteenths of a mile in about :34 4/5, a very slow fraction that led to a
modest final time and a Beyer of just 85.
So if you're following my train of thought, you can
hopefully understand why I'm tempted to go way outside the box with Golden Brown. In my opinion, there's a
lot to like. For starters, he's a fresh face in career-best form, though his
recent efforts have been on grass. For another thing, several of his recent
runs have come against older horses (and tough older horses at that), muddying
his form a bit and guaranteeing that he'll start at a good price.
Golden Brown first caught my eye when he finished a
strong second in the Dan Horn Handicap going 8.5 furlongs over the Monmouth
Park turf course on June 17th, rallying fast to finish just a
half-length behind Irish Strait. Don't forget, Irish Strait is a very capable
graded stakes competitor, and he beat the talented Synchrony in the Red Bank
Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth last year.
Subsequently, Golden Brown returned to his own age group
for the nine-furlong Kent Stakes (gr. III) at Delaware Park and ran a huge
race, unleashing a strong kick in the homestretch to roll past the leaders and
prevail by 1 ¾ lengths. The effort looks solid on paper, but visually, it was
exceptional—Golden Brown won with complete authority and seemed to be just
The fact that Golden Brown showed no hesitation winning
over nine furlongs is appealing, and it's not as though he has no experience racing
on dirt. Quite to the contrary, he won a six-furlong allowance race against
older horses over the Monmouth main track in May, and he broke his maiden over
the dirt track at Parx. You can question the caliber of competition that he
faced, but it's hard to ignore that he's run quite well sprinting on dirt.
Quite simply, I'm curious to see what Golden Brown can do
while running long on dirt for the first time. In terms of speed figures, he
needs to step up his game, but then again, the switch in surfaces could potentially
trigger a career-best effort. Call it a hunch, or call it taking a chance with
a longshot, but if I'm correct that Good Magic is vulnerable and the rest of
the Haskell field isn't all that tough, I think Golden Brown has a legitimate
chance to upset this race at a very big price.
Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Haskell
Want to test your handicapping skills against fellow Unlocking Winners readers? Check out the Unlocking Winners contests page—there's a new challenge every week!
J. Keeler Johnson (also known as "Keelerman") is a writer, blogger, videographer, handicapper, and all-around horse racing enthusiast. A great fan of racing history, he considers Dr. Fager to be the greatest racehorse ever produced in America, but counts Zenyatta as his all-time favorite. He is the founder of the horse racing website www.theturfboard.com.