Baffert Horses Headline Haskell Nominees

Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba, trained by controversial horse racing figure Bob Baffert, was among the 19 thoroughbreds announced as nominees on Thursday for the Grade 1 TVG.com Haskell Stakes, which will be held on Saturday, July 23, at Monmouth Park.

Baffert, who last won New Jersey’s most prestigious thoroughbred race in 2020 with Authentic, also has Pinehurst on the list of nominees. Preakness Stakes winner Early Voting, Florida Derby winner White Abbarrio, Arkansas Derby winner Cyberknife, Blue Grass Stakes winner Zandon, and unbeaten Jack Christopher — who has won a pair of Grade 1 races for trainer Chad Brown — are among the locks for the Haskell.

Early Voting would be the first Triple Crown race winner to compete in the Haskell since 2016, when Preakness winner Exaggerator won and Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist was in the field. In prior years, Triple Crown winners frequently made Oceanport a mid-summer stop.

The Grade 1 United Nations, which is part of a stakes-filled Haskell undercard, drew 30 nominations — including a remarkable seven from Brown, who will likely saddle defending champion Tribhuvan in the race. The United Nations, with a purse of $600,000, will be run at 1 3/8th miles on the grass.

Brown nominated three horses to the Haskell: Early Voting, Jack Christopher, and Zandon. Meanwhile, Taiba has been idle since finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby, while Pinehurst won the Grade 1 Del Mar Futurity a year ago.

Jack Christopher is 4-for-4 lifetime, with wins in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens and the Grade 1 Champagne at age 2, but the horse has yet to try two turns. Zandon, meanwhile, was third in the Kentucky Derby.

Trainer Rodolphe Brisset nominated Peter Pan Stakes winner We the People, Western River, and Kuchar for the Haskell. The Haskell winner earns an automatic spot in the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November.

The full list of Haskell nominees is as follows:

  • Be Better
  • Benevengo
  • Classic Causeway
  • Cyberknife
  • Cyberviking
  • Early Voting
  • Home Brew
  • Howling Time
  • Jack Christopher
  • Kuchar
  • Mr Jefferson
  • Pinehurst
  • Smarten Up
  • Steal Sunshine
  • Taiba
  • Western River
  • We the People
  • White Abarrio
  • Zandon

The Baffert factor

Baffert is a nine-time Haskell winner whose 90-day suspension ends Saturday. The penalty came as a result of would-be 2021 Kentucky Derby winner Medina Spirit’s disqualification for failing a post-race drug test.

“Bob Baffert has been a central piece of making the Haskell what it is today and he has always supported Monmouth Park,” the track’s operator, Dennis Drazin, recently told The Asbury Park Press. “Once his suspension ends he is welcome to come to Monmouth Park and participate in any of our races.”

The powerful New York Racing Association (NYRA) recently elected to ban Baffert from racing until Jan. 25, 2023. Baffert’s attorneys have suggested they might appeal the ruling. The ban sidelines Baffert from Aqueduct Racetrack, Belmont Park, and Saratoga Race Course.

In March, Baffert sued Churchill Downs over a two-year suspension that would keep him off the Kentucky track through 2023.

“His claims are meritless and consistent with his pattern of failed drug tests, denials, excuses, and attempts to blame others and identify loopholes in order to avoid taking responsibility for his actions,” a Churchill spokesman said at the time.

Photo: Peter Ackerman/Asbury Park Press

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