By Richard Rosenblatt
Should anyone be surprised by the official result of the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1)?
Hot Rod Charlie outdueled Mandaloun in a thrilling stretch duel to finish first by the slimmest of margins but was disqualified for interfering with Midnight Bourbon (unseating jockey Paco Lopez), and Mandaloun was declared the winner of Saturday’s Haskell at Monmouth Park.
Just what horse racing needs – another controversy in one of its nationally televised races.
This is simply the latest of several unsettling events involving the biggest races for 3-year-olds, starting with the Triple Crown. And when all the final rulings are made, it just may turn out that Mandaloun becomes the Kentucky Derby (G1) winner and Haskell (G1) winner without finishing first in either.
We already know that Medina Spirit finished first in the Derby on May 1, but a post-race test came up positive for a prohibited medication, and Hall of Fame Bob Baffert’s colt is likely to be DQ’d. And that would mean Mandaloun, who ran second to Medina Spirit, would be the official Derby winner.
Mandaloun did not run in the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes, but who knows what would have happened if he did? We’ll just have to see what happens as this wacky season moves forward.
“We got a really good trip. I thought it was a lot like our Kentucky Derby trip,’’ said Mandaloun’s trainer Brad Cox. “He was saving ground. Florent did a good job of getting on the outside of Following Sea.
“Turning for home I thought we had a big shot at winning the race. I thought we ran a winning race. Didn’t have our nose down at the wire but all and all it worked out. I’m proud of the effort and the performance. He’s always been a good colt. He has always been highly thought of. He deserves a Grade 1 victory.”
The 1 1/8-mile Haskell was the first big race for 3-year-olds after the Triple Crown and kicks off the summer season that helps determine the best 3-year-old in the land.
Hot Rod Charlie, meanwhile, ran third in the Derby and second in the Belmont, and even though he finished first in the Haskell, he was placed last in the field of seven.
“I am really proud of his effort,’’ Hot Rod Charlie’s jockey Flavien Prat. “He just clipped my heels. That’s it.”
Here’s what unfolded:
As the field turned for home, Prat and Hot Rod Charlie drifted inside and in front of Midnight Bourbon, with the Preakness runner-up and Lopez going down in a frightening scene.
Mandaloun, with Florent Geroux aboard, was on the inside, and the Godolphin-owned colt and Hot Rod Charlie went head-to-head from mid-stretch to the wire, with Hot Rod Charlie finishing first by a nose.
At Monmouth, there is a no-whip rule, and the debate will carry on as to whether a left-handed whip by Prat may have helped keep Hot Rod Charlie from bearing in too far and causing Midnight Bourbon to fall.
The latest word from the track was Lopez missed the final races of the day but was not seriously injured. Reports on Midnight Bourbon from trainer Steve Asmussen’s barn is that he, too, is not seriously injured. The horse stood up after the fall and galloped past the finish line.
“(Paco) has a soft tissue injury to his right knee and ankle. He was alert and oriented. He was not taken to the hospital. He said he was very disappointed because he thought he had a ton of horse,’’ said Dr. Angelo Chinnici, the Monmouth Park medical director.
Following Sea was placed second with Antigravity third, Pickin’ Time fourth and Basso fifth.
Mandaloun, at 3-1 returned $8.20 for a $2 win bet (Hot Rod Charlie was the 4-5 favorite).
Cox said after the race that Mandaloun would be shipped up to Saratoga, and hopefully run next in the Travers (G1) on Aug. 28 or the Pennsylvania Derby on Sept. 28. Cox also trains Belmont winner Essential Quality.
Mandaloun, owned by Juddmonte, is 8-5-1-1 for earnings of $1.65 million before the official results are in for the Derby. The son of Into Mischief won the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth as a prep for the Haskell. His other two wins came in his first two career starts in 2020.
Baffert has been suspended from entering horses at Churchill Downs and at NYRA tracks (a recently ruling overturned the New York ban), and several lawsuits are underway. Baffert, who has a record nine Haskell wins, did not have a horse in the race.
In other races:
At Saratoga, Althiqa ($9.90) won the $500,000 Diana Stakes (G1) over stablemate Summer Romance by three-quarters of a length for a 1-2 finish for trainer Charlie Appleby. The two finished 1-2 in the Just a Game (G1) at Belmont Park in their previous starts.
“We’ve been in America since the first of May; it’s the 17th of July and we had two big targets in Grade 1s and we just couldn’t do better,’’ said Appleby.
Wit ($4.20) drew clear for an eight-length victory over 10 rivals in the $150,000 Sanford (G3) for 2-year-olds. Irad Ortiz, Jr., was aboard for trainer Todd Pletcher.
Over the years while working at The Associated Press, Rich Rosenblatt became a familiar name to legions of the horse racing fans and industry insiders with his award-winning articles on horse racing and his stories from the backstretch.
In addition to being an astute observer of sports, Rosenblatt is the co-author of The All-American Chili Cookbook. His work has been seen in just about every publication in the world, including The New York Times, The Washington Post and Time Magazine.