2008 Haskell Invitational Preview, Picks and Odds

Big Brown the horse to bet (beat) in 2008 Haskell Invitational despite odd workout
by Kenneth Strong of Predictem.com

Will the real Big Brown show up in the in the 41st running of the $1 million Haskell invitational Handicap-G1 going a mile and an eighth on Sunday, August 3 at Monmouth Park?

Thats a tough question to answer, and Big Browns latest training move did nothing more than add to the craziness of his up his straight-up straight-down season. In preparation for facing only six mediocre rivals in the Haskell, Big Brown worked three furlongs on the turf at Aqueduct in 38 3/5. Not that he needs any serious work to beat this field, but why the turf work?

Many trainers use turf to work and run horses that have some type of soundness problem prior to their main goal. The firmness of the turf tends to be a little easier on some types of physical ailments. In the case of Big Brown, that would be his notorious foot problems.

Big Brown has had a regular series of works since being pulled up and experiencing his first lifetime loss in six starts as the heavy favorite in the Belmont Stakes (by jockey Kent Desormeaux, who will again be aboard for the Haskell.) Big Browns work prior to his latest three-furlong move was a good one on July 26, when he went six furlongs on the Aqueduct dirt in 1:10 4/5. That work would signal all systems go, but there are still many unanswered questions regarding why he was pulled up in the Belmont Stakes on June 7, a race in which he was seeking to become the first Triple Crown winner since Affirmed in 1978.

A combination of things possibly led to his Belmont stakes debacle including a poor start, a loose shoe, being taken off steroids (hard to verify), problem front feet, the heat of that day etc. His trainer Richard Dutrow Jr. says he doesnt know what happened and his jockey Kent Desormeaux just said something didnt feel right. So many excuses, some believable, some not. It was like Muhammad Ali taking a dive in a championship fight during his prime.

You have to think Big Brown is coming to play for real this time though. The winners share of the purse is $600,000. That should be enough money to make any horse run. Of course, there was just as much money up for grabs in the Belmont Stakes, but the betting pools were also much bigger. The betting pools for the Haskell, and the field size, will be smaller. Big Brown will be 1-2 and probably less, but if you bet enough money, you could make a small fortune if he is indeed the sure thing he looks to be on paper.

Of the six challengers to line up against Big Brown, only one has even cracked the 100 Beyer mark. If you throw out the Belmont Stakes, Big Brown has run Beyer Speed Figures of 106, 106, 109 and 100, his last coming in one of the easiest Preakness Stakes victories of all time on May 17 at Pimlico. He certainly could have run faster that day.

Facing Big Brown on Sunday in post position order are: Magical Forest, winner of his last two starts at Delaware Park including the Barbaro-G3, in which he performed gamely and recorded a 96 Beyer Speed Figure. He does appear to be on the improve. Cool Coal Man is next in line, coming off a neck victory in the Spend A Buck at Monmouth Park on June 14 with a 95 Beyer Speed Figure. Alaazo is next and he looks totally overmatched based on figures, coming off a fourth place finish in a non-winners of two allowance race at Belmont Park on June 27, for which he received a Beyer Speed Figure of 73. The only thing Alaazo appears to have going for him is trainer Bill Mott. Big Brown is next in the lineup, breaking from Post 4.

Breaking from post 5 will be Nistles Crunch, who comes into the race off a decent second place finish in the Colonial Turf Cup-G3. But he was beaten 19 lengths by Big Brown in the Florida Derby. His best Beyer Speed Figure off the grass is a 91, recorded in a 1 1/8-mile allowance race at Gulfstream Park prior to being drilled by Big Brown in the Florida Derby. Coal Play is next and he comes into the Haskell off a weak third place finish in an allowance race at Monmouth Park against older horses on July 4. He received an 85 Beyer Speed Figure for that race. Of some consolation, Coal Play did win a non-winners of two allowance race at Monmouth Park in his start previous to that race going a mile and 70 yards and recording a 102 Beyer Speed Figure. Interesting. Finally we have Atoned, who comes into the Haskell off a head loss at Monmouth Park in the Long Branch Stakes going a mile and a sixteenth. He was drifting late in that race and received an 89 Beyer Speed Figure. He will however get blinkers on for trainer Todd Pletcher, who has won the last two runnings of the Haskell and who is also scoring at a 26 percent clip with blinkers on horses from 76 starters. Still, Cool Coal Man defeated Atoned by a neck in the Spend A Buck, and he was beaten by 31 lengths by Big Brown in the Kentucky Derby.

There just doesnt seem to be anyone in the Haskell that is remotely close to Big Brown on ability. Desperately trying to find an angle to bet against Big Brown, all we can come up with is the fact that trainer Nick Zito saddles both Cool Coal Man and Coal Play. Remember it was the Zito trained Da’ Tara that posted the upset in the Belmont stakes that Big Brown pulled up in. Pletcher, having won the last two runnings of the Haskell and putting blinkers on Atoned, might be a better angle play.

It appears, at least in this race, that Big Brown is the bet to get his apparent $50 million stud value back on track and collect an easy $600,000 when passing go.

Entries for the 2008 Haskell Invitational with jockeys and morning-line odds.

Post Position, Horse, Jockey, Morning-Line Odds

1. Magical Forest, Jorge Chavez, 10-1

2. Cool Coal Man, Eddie Castro, 4-1

3. Alaazo, Jose Lezcano, 30-1

4. Big Brown, Kent Desormeaux, 1-2

5. Nistles Crunch, Elvis Trujillo, 15-1

6. Coal Play, Joe Bravo, 8-1

7. Atoned , Edgar Prado, 6-1

Good Luck!