That’s the way it usually works when Bob Baffert sends a horse to the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
Sunday should be no different, when the trainer makes his nearly annual trek to the Jersey Shore to saddle American Pharoah in the colt’s first race since taking the Belmont Stakes and becoming the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years.
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Baffert is close to perfect in cashing in at the Haskell. Of his 12 starters, the 62-year-old Hall of Famer has won a record seven times, with three runner-up finishes and a third place – all since 1997.
”We’ve had a lot of luck there,” Baffert said earlier this week from his base at Del Mar Race Track in California. ”But the reason that we’ve had a lot of luck is that I’ve taken my best horses there.”
And, he adds, ”we’re not taking them unless we know they’re ready and primed for a big performance.”
The payoff has been huge. Baffert’s horses have earned about $5 million in purse money, including a hundred thousand or two in bonuses for running horses who have Triple Crown race wins on their resume.
His second-place finishers were Anet in 1997, Captain Steve in 2000 and Power Broker in 2013.
On Wednesday, the track boosted total purse money for the Haskell by $750,000 to a record $1.75 million.
Here’s a rundown of Baffert’s winners:
POINT GIVEN (2001)
Until American Pharoah came along, this was (might still be?) Baffert’s best. The horse created so much buzz with his Preakness and Belmont wins that Monmouth Park officials increased the $1 million purse by $500,000 – and added other incentives – in wooing Baffert back to the Jersey Shore. A then-record crowd of 47,127 turned out as Gary Stevens guided 3-10 favorite Point Given to a tough half-length victory over Touch Tone.
WAR EMBLEM (2002)
Back again a year later, this time with his Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, a front-running colt who stumbled at the start in the Belmont and finished eighth in his Triple Crown bid. Nonetheless, War Emblem went off as the 3-10 favorite and won the Haskell in his usual wire-to-wire style, by 3 1/2 lengths with Victor Espinoza aboard.
ROMAN RULER (2005)
With Preakness and Belmont winner Afleet Alex not running, Baffert wound up with the even-money favorite in Roman Ruler. The colt missed the Triple Crown races because of foot problems, but won the Dwyer on July 4, then outdueled Sun King in the stretch and won the Haskell by 1 1 /4 lengths under Jerry Bailey. Baffert tied Hall of Famers Warren Croll and Sonny Hine for most Haskell wins at three.
LOOKIN AT LUCKY (2010)
Even with Derby winner Super Saver in the field, it was Baffert’s Preakness winner who was the 6-5 favorite. After a slight bobble at the start, Lookin At Lucky passed Super Saver at the quarter-pole and pulled away for a 4 1/2-length win over Trappe Shot. It was the first of three Haskell wins for jockey Martin Garcia (he also won in 2011 and 2014).
Far from Baffert’s most distinguished Haskell entry, Coil pulled off the biggest win of his career in defeating Preakness winner Shackleford by a neck, with Belmont winner Ruler On Ice third. Although Coil was making his first start on a dirt track and surprised even Baffert, it should be noted that he is a son of 2001 Haskell winner Point Given.
Baffert didn’t make the trip from California because his travel was limited after a heart attack earlier in the year. Paynter, though, owned by Ahmed Zayat, did – and came up with the biggest win of a remarkable career. Ridden for the first time by Rafael Bejarano, Paynter took charge around the far turn and won by 3 3/4 lengths. Two days later, he came down with pneumonia, then developed life-threatening colitis and laminitis. He not only recovered, but returned to racing nearly a year later and won his first time out.
Unraced as a 2-year-old, Bayern first hit the Triple Crown trail in the Preakness, finishing 10th of 11 behind winner California Chrome. But a win in the Woody Stephens on Belmont day, plus the fact Baffert was sending yet another 3-year-old to the Haskell, indicated to bettors this was a horse to watch. Untapable was the favorite, but no one could stick with Bayern, who led from the start and won by 7 1/4 lengths at 9-2 odds.
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