After trouncing her own division by a combined 31 lengths in her last four starts, the brilliant three-year-old filly Untapable takes on the boys on Sunday afternoon in the Grade 1, $1 million William Hill Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
The filly is the 2-1 morning-line favorite and seeks to become the third filly to beat males in the marquee event of the Monmouth Park meeting. Serena’s Song won in 1995 for Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas. Rachel Alexandra won the race in 2009 and was saddled by Untapable’s trainer, Steve Asmussen.
Rosie Napravnik is seeking to become the first female to boot home the winner in the Haskell. She rode the filly in her first five victories but was out with a shoulder injury, and John Velazquez was aboard the filly in her Grade 1 Mother Goose win at Belmont Park on June 28.
The Haskell is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In” race, with the winner receiving an automatic starting spot in the Grade 1, $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic at Santa Anita on Nov. 1. Only one female has won the Classic, with Zenyatta getting the job done in 2009.
The Haskell will be televised live on NBC at 5 p.m. ET.
The second choice on the morning line is Bayern (5-2), who is coming off a sharp win in the Grade 2 Woody Stephens at Belmont Park for trainer Bob Baffert. The colt has won three of his six career starts and will have a new rider in Martin Garcia, with his regular rider Gary Stevens out with a knee injury.
Baffert holds the record for training the most Haskell winners with six. The Hall of Fame trainer won the race three years in a row from 2010 to 2012 with Lookin At Lucky, Coil and Paynter.
Three others in the field competed in at least one Triple Crown race. Social Inclusion (8-1) was third in the Preakness, Wildcat Red (10-1) was 18th in the Kentucky Derby and Medal Count (8-1) was eighth in the Derby and third in the Belmont Stakes.
The question horseplayers must ask is if Untapable offers any betting value at odds that could be less than 2-1. At least one well-known handicapper is looking to beat the filly.
“Call me a skeptic but I’m not sold on her beating the boys going a mile and an eighth,” said Michael Beychok via BreedersCup.com, winner the 2012 Daily Racing Form/NTRA National Handicapping Championship and Eclipse Award as Handicapper of the Year. “She freaked in the spring and those races have to take a toll at some point.”
“The obvious way to go in the Haskell is to pick the talented filly Untapable, or speedy Bayern on top. But instead, I will go hunting for a price and land on Just Call Kenny,” said Chris Fallica of ESPN, via BreedersCup.com. “A good second in the Long Branch off a six-month layoff, he should be set to do his best running here from off an expected hot pace.”
I am going to seek out more value as well. Here are my top three selections for the William Hill Haskell Invitational:
Win: Albano was taken off the Kentucky Derby trail after a fourth in the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby and came back off a two-and-a-half-month freshening with a smart-looking win in the Grade 3 Pegasus over the Monmouth Park main track. The Larry Jones trainee started off the year running second in the Grade 3 Lecomte and then set the fractions and was nailed in the final jump as my top pick at 13-1 in the Grade 2 Risen Star.
The colt looks as if he should move forward off his last win and should get a good tracking trip sitting just off what likely is going to be a contested early pace. The colt offers decent value if he goes off near his 6-1 morning line.
Place: Bayern dueled for the early lead and drew clear to win the Grade 2 Woody Stephens last out going seven furlongs—and did it over a racing strip that was kinder to horses coming from off the pace that day. The colt bounced back after having a tough trip two back in the Preakness Stakes (G1).
The son of Offlee Wild needs to avoid getting hooked in an early speed duel. He weakened to finish third in the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in his lone try at nine furlongs, but that was his stakes debut and pedigree wise he should be able to handle the extra ground.
Show: Untapable takes on the boys here, and she has been brilliant this year winning all four of her starts, including a pair of Grade 1 races. She has won her four starts this year by a combined 31 lengths, although the three-year-old filly division is not very deep right now.
She earned a solid speed figure two back winning the Grade 1 Kentucky Oaks at today's nine furlongs, and her trainer Steve Asmussen won this race with the filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009. She fits with her best, but she faces tougher in this spot and is going to be a short price.
Morning line odds courtesy of Equibase.
Follow Michael Dempsey on Twitter @turfnsport.