By Jay Cook |
OCEANPORT – Talk about a thriller.
A riveting final stretch on Sunday afternoon’s betfair.com Haskell Invitational electrified fans, trainers, and owners alike as they collectively watched Kentucky-bred Girvin roar out from last place to win the 50th installment of Monmouth Park Racetrack’s flagship race in a photo finish.
It was any horses race to win. A six-horse pack tightened up at about the ¾ mile marker, providing each of those thoroughbreds an equal opportunity to capture the $600,000 first place purse in Sunday’s main event.
Yet it was the Dark Bay colt Girvin – sitting at a 15-length deficit at one point – who would cross the finish line, inching the win out by a nose over McCraken.
“He’s continued to amaze us along the way through his three-year-old campaign,” said Girvin’s trainer Joe Sharp, over the PA system in the Winner’s Circle. “Patience has paid off from the farm, to the owners, to our staff.”
Remarkably enough, the win was secured by Robby Albarado, a veteran jockey who took the race only 10 days earlier. He had replaced Hall of Famer Mike Smith, who rode Girvin to a 13th place finish in the Kentucky Derby in May.
“I got to work (Girvin) in Saratoga on Sunday, which is the best day that I worked him at,” Albarado said after the race. “He had so much confidence that it felt good. I’ve ridden against him, so I knew his style – he’s really relaxed at some points.”
Although not necessarily slow out of the gate, Girvin was near the back of the pack as race favorites Irish War Cry, Practical Joke, and Timeline were hot at the start.
Girvin’s biggest deficit came at the ½ mile marker, where he was about 15 lengths behind Timeline, a sizable difference for any horse to overcome.
At the ¾ mark, the pack significantly tightened, and Girvin began to shave away at the lead.
Girvin then turned the jets on for the final stretch, blowing past those favorites – Irish War Cry, Practical Joke, and Timeline – to capture the win as the crowd of 35,303 horse racing fans roared.
“I knew he’d be further back than he was in the last couple of starts because of the pace he’s been racing,” Albarado said of Girvin’s run. “I didn’t want to expedite the pace, so I just sat back and bided my time, tried to get inside, I swung him out and he did all the rest.”
Albarado has previously raced at Monmouth Park throughout his long career, which has encompassed nearly 32,000 contests, 5,062 first place finishes, and approximately $210,000,000 in total career earnings, according to Equibase.
Albarado said Sunday’s win at the 50th betfair.com Haskell Invitational was one of his biggest. He popularly rode Curlin throughout the 2007 campaign, and made national headlines when Curlin won the Preakness Stakes in Maryland, and the Breeder’s Cup Classic at Monmouth Park.
Despite lacking major name recognition from the three premiere horse races during the summer circuit – the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes – the race provided some level of historical significance.
Irish War Cry, ironically sired by Curlin, was bred in New Jersey by Isabelle de Tomaso, the daughter of Amory Haskell, for whom the Haskell Invitational is named after. He ultimately finished fourth in Sunday’s race.
“We didn’t have the Derby or Preakness winner, but we had an excellent field of those that didn’t win those two races,” said Dennis Drazin, advisor to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemens Association and Darby Development, the operators of Monmouth Park. “We had a good, competitive field, the crowd’s over 35,000, perfect weather, and a great race. We’re thrilled.”
On top of Girvin’s $600,000 first place purse, he was awarded an automatic entry into the 2017 Breeder’s Cup Classic, set for Del Mar, California on Nov. 3 and 4. That race annually showcases the top Grade 1thoroughbreds from around the country.
“We’ve let Girvin take his own path,” said Sharp, the trainer. “It was a patient one, but we have a fresh three-year-old going into the fall, and we’re very confident in our horse.”
This article was first published in the August 3 – 10, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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