07/27/2014 10:27PM

Watchmaker: Bayern capitalizes in Haskell, Tonalist preps in Jim Dandy

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Bayern capitalizes in Haskell

Sunday’s Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park was an excellent reminder that horses are rarely as good as they look when they win big and equally rarely as bad as they look when they lose ugly. This applies, in particular, to Haskell winner Bayern and to Untapable, the best 3-year-old filly in the country, who finished a soundly beaten fifth as the strong Haskell favorite.

No one has been a bigger proponent of Bayern winning the Haskell since he won the Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard than I have. But it would be silly to take bows, because this wasn’t rocket science. Just because Bayern ran huge in the seven furlong Stephens – and he ran giant – that didn’t mean he was just a seven-furlong horse. Bayern had real excuses in two of his three prior two-turn attempts – he was obliterated early in the Preakness and was short in the Arkansas Derby off a layoff in an attempt to gain points to make a start in the Kentucky Derby he never made – and in his other two-turn outing, he won by 15 lengths.

That said, while Bayern’s 7 1/4-length score in the Haskell was eye-catching on the surface, it did not take place in a vacuum. As Monmouth’s Sunday card progressed, the main track became increasingly speed-favoring, and no one in the Haskell was better positioned to capitalize on that than Bayern, breaking from post 2. And when jockey Martin Garcia indeed attempted to capitalize on the situation, school was out. Bayern toyed with his field for the first seven furlongs or so and then made a show of them.

The thinking in the Bayern camp going into the Haskell was he would shorten up afterward and target the Grade 1 King’s Bishop at Saratoga on Travers Day at the same seven-furlong distance at which he won the Stephens. But now, that is apparently out the window, and longer races like the Travers are under consideration, with a decision due Monday. I’m a big fan of Bayern’s, but I’m skeptical of him getting 10 furlongs on a fair track like Saratoga in the Travers. I would love to see his people think a little differently and consider the nine-furlong Woodward at Saratoga against older horses one week after the Travers. We’ll see.

As for Untapable, I feared from the get-go that as sporting as it was for her connections to take on males in the Haskell, it wouldn’t work because she would face a sustained pace the likes of which she had never seen before. But the way the Monmouth track played Sunday, her difficult task was made nearly impossible. However, the good news is Untapable’s Haskell loss won’t harm her dominant position within her division one iota. We just have to hope that the Haskell didn’t take too much out of her.

Expect more from Tonalist in the Travers

I think we saw the Travers winner in Saturday’s Jim Dandy at Saratoga, but I’m not sure yet if it’s Jim Dandy winner Wicked Strong or runner-up Tonalist. I liked Wicked Strong Saturday because I thought blinkers would make a huge difference for a colt whose major knock was his lack of focus. But the blinkers made an even bigger difference than I anticipated. Even though the Jim Dandy pace was pedestrian, and even if the addition of blinkers was meant to put him in the game earlier, it was a surprise to see Wicked Strong right with the early lead. Credit jockey Rajiv Maragh for that astute move. But the striking thing is, despite being far more involved early, Wicked Strong still finished strongly to turn away Tonalist.

Tonalist might have disappointed as the favorite, but I think the Jim Dandy outing will do him a world of good. My sense all along was that Tonalist’s connections were approaching the Jim Dandy much more as a mere prep than Wicked Strong’s connections were, and I don’t think the Belmont Stakes winner was close to being at peak. But he will be, after this, for the Travers.

Comparing 3-year old sprinters

The Big Beast is a serious 3-year-old sprinter who belongs in next month’s Grade 1 King’s Bishop, judging from his stunning allowance win on Saturday’s undercard. The Big Beast (he is indeed a big beast) was most impressive in a maiden win at Belmont in his last start, but his effort Saturday, drawing off after absorbing early pace pressure, was at least a couple of notches better.

There was an immediate comparison of 3-year-old sprinters available as in the race following The Big Beast, Coup de Grace charged from well off the pace to prove clearly the best in the Amsterdam Stakes, improving his record in one-turn races to 5 for 6.

Truth be told, I’ve been skeptical of Coup de Grace because he got fabulous, contested-pace setups in his two sprint stakes wins before the Amsterdam. And he got another great setup Saturday. But you have to give Coup de Grace some credit for being good enough to capitalize on good setups, because not every horse does, and for winning more decisively in the Amsterdam than he ever had before.

Still, Coup de Grace strikes me as an opportunist. The Big Beast strikes me as one who makes his own luck. I tend to gravitate toward the latter.

Competitive Edge shows star potential

It’s not smart policy to anoint anyone a star after only one performance, but Competitive Edge’s debut Saturday at Saratoga was one that would make you take the chance. The high speed and the sense of purpose Competitive Edge showed running away from his field through the stretch was a powerful combination. And what’s even more compelling is the fact that Competitive Edge is considered clearly the best of trainer Todd Pletcher’s 2-year-olds. If we were talking about a lower-profile outfit, that point wouldn’t pack much of an impact. But we’re talking about Pletcher here, a man with a serious frame of reference.

And as unwise as it is to jump too far off one race, it is also premature to write any horse off based on one poor effort. That said, you have to wonder about Aldrin and all the hype that surrounded him going into this same 2-year-old maiden race. I mean, Aldrin never ran a jump, from flag fall to finish. The only excuse I could find for him was he was bumped in upper stretch. But he was well out of it by that point and seemed to give up after the incident. Weird.

Don't expect much from Curlin field

The group who contested Friday’s Curlin Stakes put on a nice show, but with one possible exception, they should not be mistaken for significant players near the top of the 3-year-old division. The only one of the Curlin bunch who might prove to be above average going forward was fourth-place finisher Viva Majorca. In stretching out to two turns for the first time after four sprints to begin his career, I’m not sure why Viva Majorca was as far back early as he was. But that approach wound up getting him in traffic late on the far turn and in upper stretch as he searched for clear sailing. But once clear, Viva Majorca finished well, if belatedly, to be beaten less than a length.

Jimmy Turano More than 1 year ago
Tonalist needs more to win the Travers stakes. I doubt the trainer told the jockey not to extend Tonalist, and just run around the track. Tonalist was a lackluster second. Not the monster he was before the Belmont. I do not believe Tonalist will be in the money on Travers day. My opinion but most of the stable, does btter at Belmont Park anyway.
rahman Williams More than 1 year ago
Woodward, Kelso then back home for BC Dirt Mile for Bayern. Tonalist might the real deal or one race wonder will see
Helene Beides More than 1 year ago
I think your way off base about the horses coming out of The Curlin. The winner V.E.day,is a lightly raced colt who is getting better with every start.He made a trotting horse move passing horses one by one and then showed his immaturity and greenness, by lugging in and running on the wrong lead. With further anticipated improvement, he could compete with the best of his division.
Big Woodys More than 1 year ago
Bayern to the Woodward is a good idea if the connections think he can't get the 1 1/4 mile distance. The Woodward is 1 1/8 mile and might suit him better. However, Bayern would be in the 3yo championship picture if he wins the Travers.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Please delete my reference to the Whitney in my prior post. I meant to say Travers.
Bill Kaup More than 1 year ago
Your thoughts on Bayern are identical to mine. It'sone thing to skim along the golden rail at Monmouth on Haskell Day and it's quite another thing to wire the field at a mile and a quarter at Saratoga in the Whitney. Not saying he isn't good but he had to be flattered by the set up he got Sunday. I would like to see him in the Woodward back at a mile and an eighth and taking on older horses. Garcia seems to get the best out of him and speed is always dangerous no matter where you run. But I cannot see him in the Travers.
Mike R More than 1 year ago
Baffert's quarter horses can run a mile and a quarter, Game On Dude especially when they get alone on the lead. Pennsylvania derby will be Bayern's next stop.
Jordan More than 1 year ago
I really like the phrase "sustained pace" Mike uses when detailing why he thought Untapable would be up against it in the Haskell. If you look at Untapable's record, her big wins were done sitting off leisurely paces of 1:12 and change before running away in the stretch. The one exception was the Mother Goose, but that was at one turn and over an insanely fast Belmont surface that made the pace look faster than it probably was. Everyone talked about how slow the Derby pace was,but it was still 5 lengths faster than the Oaks, even though the Oaks was an eighth shorter. The talk among some who, looking at the final times of the Oaks and Derby, suggested Untapable would have won the Derby made me think back to the 2012 Foster day when many extrapolated from final times that Fleur de Lis winner Royal Delta would have beaten Ron the Greek, Wise Dan and Fort Larned in the Foster while ignoring that the pace of the Foster was about 10 lengths faster. Even Rachel struggled some when she had to deal with the sustained pace of gr.1 males. Many thought after the Oaks and Derby of 2009 that Rachel would crush the likes of Mine that Bird and Musket Man, but when they actually met in the Preakness, Rachel was all out to win by a length. The reason is because she had to deal with the early challenge of a future champion sprinter and a sustained pace far more demanding than what her fellow fillies could provide. The difference between Rachel and Untapable is that Rachel was legitimately great, and found a way to win her 3 grade 1 races vs. males.
Chris Lowe More than 1 year ago
I find it odd that no one has addressed the obvious display of Untapable going into heat in the paddock.
Bob More than 1 year ago
The immortal words from someone is 'Horses are like Strawberries , they go bad fast'.how true that is isn't it.
Electrocutionst More than 1 year ago
Good Idea on Bayern to the Woodward. Mike, could you please expand on your idea for Bayern going there? Would love to hear it. Would be a great race, especially if Palace Malice showed up!
Andy Dean More than 1 year ago
I have a feeling Bayern might be a freak. You've got to remember that was only his 7th career start in a campaign that had a hiccup in it during the triple crown races with that foot bruise. Baffert said yesterday that he's finally figured out his running style in an interview after the race, and that's to just let him roll. You can't try to throttle him back as he's a "free runner". Gary Stevens said after the Woody Stephens to give him another shot at two turns and he'd smoke 'em and boy did he. Now it's on to the true elite e.g. Palace Malice, Game on Dude, Lea, Shared, Chrome etc. etc. Hopefully all of the above will stay sound in the run up to the Classic!