Last-gasp Girvin earns Breeders' Cup spot in Haskell
Report: USA, Sunday
Monmouth Park: Betfair.com Haskell Invitational (Grade 1) 1m1f | dirt | 3yo
The American Classic division really does not get any clearer. The day after Good Samaritan beat both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winners on his dirt debut in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, Girvin (Joe Sharp/Robby Albarado) was the surprise winner of a thrilling Haskell Invitational.
Sent off slightly better than a 9-1 shot in front of a crowd of 35,303 at New Jersey's premier venue, he sat well off a contested pace before roaring down the stretch to touch off one-time Kentucky Derby favourite McCraken in the tightest of finishes.
He won the $1 million contest by a nose, with Practical Joke another half-length away in third as those involved in the pace battle – among them favourite Timeline and hometown hope Irish War Cry – were totally overwhelmed in the stretch.
Girvin, a son of Grade 1 dirt winner Tale Of Ekati, had won the Louisiana Derby before finishing down the field in Kentucky and then came second in the Grade 3 Ohio Derby. Now his sights will be set as high as they come, with the Travers Stakes and the Breeders' Cup Classic on the agenda, the Haskell having been part of the Breeders' Cup 'Win and You're In Challenge' offering a guaranteed fees-paid berth to America's most prestigious race at Del Mar on November 4.
"We'll see how Girvin is doing before we make any plans, but the timing of the Travers is pretty good," said trainer Joe Sharp, the husband of former jockey Rosie Napravnik. "The Breeders' Cup is also in our future. The question is whether the mile and a quarter is good for Girvin. The way he ran today I'd have to think the Classic is within what he can do."
Jockey Robby Albarado, who was replacing Mike Smith, said the Girvin team's strategy worked out. "We talked about it in the paddock and we were all on the same page," he said. "We thought the three horses to the inside would be the speed.
"He started to settle into his stride on the backside. I just tried to get him to the outside and keep up his momentum."
McCraken's trainer Ian Wilkes was gutted; his representative's wide rally looked sure to claim the race everywhere except where it really mattered, at the wire. "It’s a tough beat any time, but especially in a Grade 1," said Wilkes.
Also on Sunday
Del Mar: Clement L Hirsch Stakes (Grade 1) 1m½f | dirt | 3yo+ f/m
A repeat victory for last year's winner Stellar Wind (John Sadler/Victor Espinoza), who beat her old rival Vale Dori for the third time – albeit after another fierce battle down the stretch as these two top-class older fillies duked it out like they had in June in the Beholder Mile at Santa Anita.
Winning her third Grade 1 in a row, 1-2 favourite Stellar Wind stalked her front-running opponent before edging to the lead in upper stretch and keeping on strongly to win by a neck.
The Hirsch is a 'Win and You're In race' for the Breeders' Cup Distaff, where Stellar Wind had made the frame for the last two seasons.
"Once she broke well, I felt the race was all over," said Espinoza. "I knew she'd win – and she showed me to be right again! I had that other horse measured."
Saratoga: Shuvee Hcap (Grade 3) 1m1f | dirt | 3yo+ f/m
Okay, there were only three runners but you couldn't ask a lot more from Paid Up Subscriber (Chad Brown/John Velazquez), who took control on the back stretch and pulled away to score by a scarcely credible 32½ lengths.
On her previous outing, the five-year-old – bought for $1.1m at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky in the autumn – had scared champion filly Songbird in the Acorn Stakes. Songbird, incidentally, has been entered for the Pacific Classic at Del Mar on August 19, when rivals could include Arrogate.
Monmouth Park: Monmouth Cup (Grade 3) 1m½f | dirt | 3yo+
Stepped up in trip, odds-on Sharp Azteca (Jorge Navarro/Paco Lopez) broke the track record as he gave 7lb and a seven-length beating to his three rivals.
>> Popular jockey David Flores, who had announced his intention to retire over the weekend, duly had the final ride of his 33-year career at Del Mar on Sunday. After 3,068 winners in North America plus plenty more elsewhere, the Mexican-born 49-year-old is to focus on a new pinhooking operation in Florida. His final mount, Red Livy, was eighth of nine in a five-furlong turf allowance.