07/26/2013 3:08PM

Steve Klein: Haskell card offers graded stakes galore

Email

If you like handicapping graded stakes races, you’ll want to spend Sunday watching and wagering on the races at Monmouth Park. Five of the 14 races are graded stakes, with the main event being race 13, the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational Stakes.

Matchmaker

The action begins in the fifth race with the Grade 3, $150,000 Matchmaker, a 1 1/8-mile turf race for fillies and mares.

Laughing won this race last year and would be my selection if she were to run. But she was expected to run at Saratoga on Saturday in the Diana. If so, I’ll give a slight edge to Julie’s Love, who finished second in the Grade 2 Dance Smartly. I’ll box her in the exacta with Minakshi, who was third in the Grade 2 Sheepshead Bay at Belmont and fourth in the Grade 2 New York.

Molly Pitcher

The Grade 2, $200,000 Molly Pitcher, a 1 1/16-mile race for fillies and mares, is the sixth race. Joyful Victory battled hard through a fast pace in the Grade 1 Ogden Phipps, then surrendered and finished fifth of six as the favorite. She has done her best running when the fractions were more sensible, and that is the most likely scenario in this race.

Joyful Victory has trained swiftly for her return from a two-month freshening and should win if she rebounds. She Is my top selection, and I’ll key her for first in the exacta over Funny Proposition, who was a comfortable winner in the Grade 2 Fleur de Lis, and Wine Princess, who won the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks last year.

Monmouth Cup

The ninth race is the Grade 2, $200,000 Monmouth Cup, a 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds and up.

Take Charge Indy was the 19-10 favorite last time out in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill, but chasing Fort Larned through lively 23.27- and 23.52-second splits didn’t agree with him, and he finished last, 20 1/4 lengths behind Fort Larned.

Take Charge Indy can be impressive when things go his way, but he has lost six of his last seven starts. I’ll try to beat him with Hymn Book, who rallied into a strong pace last time out when he finished second at Belmont. His best 2012 form would give him a chance to win. I’ll use Hymn Book on top in the exacta over both Take Charge Indy and Norman Asbjornson, who ran well in three of his last four races.

Oceanport

Race 12 is the Grade 3, $150,000 Oceanport, a 1 1/16-mile turf race for 3-year-olds and up.

Swift Warrior won the Grade 3 John B. Connally and the Grade 3 Tampa Bay, then took three months off. He was off the board in his return, then finished a close third in the Grade 2 Colonial Cup in his most recent start. Continued improvement the third time back would make him a contender.

Howe Great earned a career-best 100 Beyer when he finished second at Belmont in the Grade 3 Poker. He won his previous race on this lawn last year.

Hudson Steele won the Grade 2 Dixie last year. He won a slow race in his return, but a better try is likely this time.

I’ll play Swift Warrior to win and use him on top of Howe Great and Hudson Steele in the exacta.

Haskell Invitational

Verrazano is the 9-5 morning-line favorite in the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational, a 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds. He finished far back on a sloppy track in the Kentucky Derby, but he is unbeaten in five races on fast tracks.

Nevertheless, there are still reasons to consider playing against him. He enjoyed a very comfortable trip on the lead in his win in the Grade 3 Pegasus, and in his win in the Wood Memorial, he tracked the leader through slow early fractions. Once Itsmyluckyday pulled up in the Pegasus, all Verrazano had to do was beat 32-1, 37-1, and 53-1 longshots to win the race.

I’m more impressed with Oxbow, the 2-1 second choice. He led through mild fractions in his Preakness victory, but he still came home fast enough to earn a 106 Beyer. He worked much harder in the Belmont when he rallied into a significantly faster pace and still held on well enough to beat Orb for second, even though the pace scenario assisted Orb, who closed from far back.

Power Broker is in good form now with consecutive wins. But the only race fast enough to suggest he will contend here is his win in the $150,000 Easy Goer, and he had to work fairly hard to beat Micromanage by 3 3/4 lengths. He looks like an underlaid contender at his 3-1 morning-line price.

I’ll bet Oxbow to win, and I’ll key him on top of Verrazano and Power Broker in the exacta.

Bing Crosby

There is another Grade 1 race Sunday, the $300,000 Bing Crosby, a six-furlong race for 3-year-olds and up at Del Mar.

Comma to the Top tends to tire late in his races and will appreciate cutting back from seven furlongs. He’s the horse to beat, but he won’t offer value.

If Majestic City can match the improvement he showed while finishing second behind Paynter, he’ll have a chance to win and would be the betting value.

Jimmy Creed is better than he showed last time. A rebound would make him tough.

I’ll bet Majestic City to win, and I’ll box him in the exacta with Comma to the Top, and Jimmy Creed.