Is Maximum Security Vulnerable in the Haskell?

By J. Keeler Johnson ("Keelerman") Twitter: @J_Keelerman

Saturday, July 20th will be a busy day of racing across North America, with plenty of action to keep an eye on at Saratoga and Del Mar. But by far the most anticipated race of the weekend is the $1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park.

This 1 1/8-mile race will pit a small but high-quality field of three-year-olds against each other in the division's first Grade 1 test since the Triple Crown concluded. Who will prevail in this pivotal summer challenge? Let's take a horse-by-horse look at the field:

#1 King for a Day

King for a Day isn't one of the most recognizable names in racing. Trained by Todd Pletcher, this son of Uncle Mo missed the 2019 Triple Crown and has yet to win a graded stakes race. But could King for a Day actually be the most likely winner of the Haskell? That's the direction I'm leaning.

King for a Day showed potential as a juvenile, defeating the future graded stakes runners Tacitus and Kentucky Wildcat in a maiden race at Aqueduct before finishing fourth in the Kentucky Jockey Club Stakes (gr. II) at Churchill Downs. I was impressed by King for a Day's performance in the latter race since he was beaten just two lengths after making a wide, premature move to take the lead in the stretch.

Following a six-month layoff, King for a Day returned to action in the 1 1/16-mile Sir Barton Stakes at Pimlico, where he tracked a quick pace before seizing command to win by 2 ½ lengths. The quality of the race was reiterated when runner-up Tone Broke returned to finish third in the Queen's Plate Stakes and fifth-place finisher Top Line Growth came back to win the Iowa Derby via disqualification.

But King for a Day really stepped up his game in the 1 1/16-mile Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth last month. Sent off as the distant 5-1 second choice behind 1-20 favorite Maximum Security, the disqualified winner of the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), King for a Day hounded Maximum Security from start to finish and gamely wore down his rival in the final furlong to win by a length.

King for a Day posted a 102 Beyer speed figure in the Pegasus, suggesting he has the talent to be a serious player in the three-year-old division this summer. Unlike the Triple Crown veterans, King for a Day is fresh and lightly-raced, so there's no telling how much he might improve over his next couple of starts.

I'm also encouraged by the tactical versatility King for a Day has displayed. Although he has early speed, he's also willing to relax off the pace, which could come in handy in this speed-filled edition of the Haskell. I hope to see King for a Day rate behind the leaders, launch a rally on the far turn, and take command in the homestretch to complete his ascent into the upper echelon of the three-year-old division.

#2 Joevia

Winner of the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park, Joevia outran expectations in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) to set the pace and finish third, beaten just 1 ¾ lengths. But Joevia enjoyed relatively uncontested leads in both races (particularly the Belmont Stakes), and a very different scenario figures to unfold in the Haskell. Joevia is one of four runners who figure to vie for early supremacy, and since Joevia has drawn the innermost post position among the quartet, he could face significant pace pressure right from the start. With this difficult task looming large, I'll generally oppose Joevia and only consider playing him on the bottom of deeper trifecta or superfecta tickets.

#3 Spun to Run

After losing his first four starts sprinting, Spun to Run stretched out around two turns and showed improvement to score maiden and allowance victories at Parx Racing. He was an easy winner on both occasions, but he also benefited from tracking slow fractions in races of questionable quality. This is a big step up in class, and Spun to Run figures to find the pace scenario more challenging while returning from a four-month layoff. For these reason, I'll side against him.

#4 Bethlehem Road

Bethlehem Road has plenty of tactical speed and dominated his first three starts at Parx Racing, most notably scoring by 1 ½ lengths in the Parx Spring Derby. But when Bethlehem Road stepped up in class for the Ohio Derby (gr. III) at Thistledown, he was never a match for the top contenders and finished fourth, 13 ¾ lengths behind the third-place runner. Bethlehem Road will face even tougher company in the Haskell, and the task of dueling for the lead against Joevia, Mucho Gusto, and Maximum Security is imposing. Bethlehem Road can certainly be a pace factor in the Haskell, but I'll oppose him in my exotic wagers.

#5 Mucho Gusto

Since 2000, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert has run 11 horses in the Haskell Invitational. The results? Eight victories and three second-place finishes. Any time Baffert ships in a horse for the Haskell, it's wise to pay attention.

But six of Baffert's Haskell winners were veterans of the Triple Crown, while two of his three losers were relatively inexperienced runners who skipped the Triple Crown races. Mucho Gusto falls into the latter category, and while he's run well this year—scoring victories in the Robert B. Lewis Stakes (gr. III), Lazero Barrera Stakes (gr. III), and Affirmed Stakes (gr. III)—he's also given the impression of being a miler at heart. When he endeavored to stretch his speed over 1 1/8 miles in the Sunland Derby (gr. III), he weakened to finish a distant third.

Granted, Mucho Gusto had to duel for the lead through quick fractions in the Sunland Derby, but the same scenario could well unfold in the Haskell. While I respect Baffert's record in this race, I don't trust Mucho Gusto to carry his speed 1 1/8 miles against a field of this caliber.

#6 Everfast

Everfast isn't the most consistent horse in training, but he's occasionally fired off big performances, most notably when rallying from far back to finish second in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I). Everfast did benefit from a quick pace in the Preakness—most of the speed horses fell apart down the lane—but even with a less ideal setup in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I), he ran an even race to finish seventh, beaten just 3 ¼ lengths.

There should be plenty of pace in the Haskell to set up Everfast's late run, and even if he doesn't rally all the way to the winner's circle, he could certainly crack the exacta at a nice price. If he does, he would be following in the footsteps of his Dale Romans-trained stablemate Keen Ice, who capitalized on a fast pace to finish second at 18-1 behind Triple Crown winner American Pharoah in the 2015 Haskell.

#7 Maximum Security

Trained by Jason Servis, Maximum Security was nothing less than brilliant in his first five starts. Following three easy victories against maiden claiming and starter allowance company, the front-running son of New Year's Day dominated the Florida Derby (gr. I) in gate-to-wire fashion and crossed the wire first in the Kentucky Derby (gr. I), only to be disqualified from the latter victory for ducking out and causing interference on the far turn.

But Maximum Security's Derby performance seemed to take something out of him. He was reportedly lackluster in his post-Derby training, to the extent that Servis almost skipped the colt's scheduled run in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth. In the end, Maximum Security did compete in the Pegasus and ran a decent race—he stumbled at the start, recovered to set the pace, and was ultimately beaten just a length by King for a Day while posting a 100 Beyer. But I also got the impression that Maximum Security was simply the second-best horse on the day.

One thing seems certain, Maximum Security won't enjoy an easy lead in the Haskell. He'll either have to sprint hard to beat his pace rivals to the lead, or else employ rating tactics while racing outside of runners. There's no doubt Maximum Security is a talented horse—his four consecutive triple-digit Beyers speak of his quality. But after coming up short against King for a Day in the Pegasus, I wonder if his busy spring season might be catching up to him a bit. Considering he ran a hard race in the Pegasus just six weeks after his huge effort in the Derby, could regression be a possibility on Saturday?


I am of the opinion that the Pegasus Stakes marked a changing of the guard. Maximum Security was the star of the spring, but King for a Day had his number at Monmouth, and I expect King for a Day to maintain his advantage on Saturday.

I believe Maximum Security could be vulnerable to regression in the Haskell, so although I'll use him in my vertical exotics, I'm just as optimistic about Everfast and Mucho Gusto hitting the board. Should Maximum Security finish out of the money at a short price, the payoffs could be lucrative, even in this small field.


First: King for a Day
Second: Everfast
Third: Mucho Gusto

Now it's your turn! Who do you like in the Haskell Invitational?


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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

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