Sunday will be the next step on the road to the Hall Of Fame for superfilly Rachel Alexandra or so says everyone in the sport of Thoroughbred racing. The big question going in is can anyone truly beat her? Let's take a look at each of the seven horses in the Grade 1 $1,250,000 Haskell Invitational and see what we get:
#1 Duke Of Mischief- The Iowa Derby winner posted his career best Beyer figure in winning that race at odds of 14-1. It was only his second-ever race on a fast dirt track. It was also against much less than he will face here. The things he has in his favor are a bullet workout on July 25, jockey Eibar Coa aboard again, and trainer David Fawkes is winning at a 19% rate this year. I think the negatives will outweigh the positives with this colt.
#2 Summer Bird- The Grade 1 Belmont winner is kind of a strange duck. He doesn't stand out and he also doesn't recede into the background. I could very easily see him pounce on a speed duel that could develop in front of him and roar past everyone in the stretch. I could also very easily see him not firing and finishing up the track. He has not run since the Belmont win, so he should be fresh. I just think you are more likely to see the latter situation arise than the former.
#3 Papa Clem- The Grade 2 Arkansas Derby winner ran decently in the first two legs of the Triple Crown to finish 4th in the Kentucky Derby and 6th in the Preakness Stakes. He then rested to come back in the Long Branch over this very Monmouth track and finished a dull 3rd after an early stumble. Did he not like the track or was he still flat after a grueling run through the Triple Crown? Honestly, I think it is a little bit of both, so this would be a no from me also.
#4 Munnings- The winner of the Grade 2 Tom Fool at Belmont has never been this far in his career. In fact, the only other time he went more than a mile was the Grade 1 Breeders' Cup Juvenile and he finished 10th for his worst result ever. His Sire is 2004 Breeders' Cup Sprint winner, Speightstown. This should be the speed in the race (along with Rachel Alexandra) and if there is a speed battle presented, he will certainly be a part of it. I just don't see him being a part of the finish due to the distance.
#5 Atomic Rain- He scored a win in the Long Branch over this racetrack, but there has been talk all week that he might be scratched due to some foot problems. The connections say they are more optimistic the closer it gets to race time, but come on, any possible problems when you are facing the best racehorse in training right now make you an automatic non-factor. Even with "Jersey" Joe Bravo aboard, a definite toss.
#6 Rachel Alexandra- She has won her last seven starts by a staggering total of 63 3/4 lengths. That record includes three Grade 1 wins and three Grade 2 wins. She gets the best jockey in the business right now on her back in Calvin Borel. She is the best horse in the business right now and when you include the fact that I have a thrown out every other horse in this race for one reason or another, I think I can safely say that this fine filly will be in the Winner's Circle on Sunday.
#7 Bunker Hill- Four of his last five workouts have been bullets. He is adding blinkers today. He is 2 for 3 over the Monmouth track. He also lost by seven lengths to Big Drama at Charles Town on June 20. His only other Graded appearance was in a Grade 3 turf race at Churchill Downs on Kentucky Oaks day, finishing 8th. He might have been the favorite in an Allowance race earlier on the card, but there is nothing to justify him running with the likes of what he is against here.
So, in the final analysis, Sunday should be Rachel's day. I plan on just watching her exude greatness and enjoying the dominance. Hopefully, we all can just appreciate what we have in her, for her like might not be seen again for many, many years.
They Are Off would like to pass along Happy Birthday wishes to occasional contributor, Martha Claussen, who will be celebrating as well on Sunday. Tune in again on Monday for more from They Are Off. For right now, I am Gone... GOODBYE!