- Last Updated: 6:34 AM, August 1, 2011
- Posted: 12:54 AM, August 1, 2011
OCEANPORT, N.J. -- The Haskell Invitational has long been the alpha and omega of New Jersey thoroughbred racing, a million dollar Grade 1 showcase, the historic bridge between the Triple Crown and the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
No more. Today, it's beginning to look like an annual million-dollar benefit staged exclusively for trainer Bob Baffert after his lightly raced colt Coil unfurled an astounding performance to give Baffert his fifth Haskell in 10 years at Monmouth.
Work the math. Owners receive $600,000 for the winner's share. The trainer gets 10 percent, or $60,000, a pop. Multiply that by Baffert's five and it comes to $300,000, just for one race in New Jersey.
Add in three other horses over the years that hit the board to give him an unbelievable 8-for-8 in the money score, and you can see why Baffert thinks the Haskell is a piece of boardwalk taffy.
And that's not to count the money won at the windows. Coil opened at 9-2, but all through the betting he kept getting hammered till, at one time, he hit 5-2 before easing to start at 3-1. His part-owner Mike Pegram likes to send it in when he fancies a horse.
Baffert is amazing. He keeps coming up with good horses every year, then trains and places them like a magician.
Next to the Baffert bonanza, the big story of the Haskell was the incredibly astute ride by his 26-year-old Mexican-born jockey Martin Garcia.
Coil was expected to break alertly from the rail and gallop with the speed. Instead, without his usual blinkers, he broke like an Army mule and to the astonishment of every one, especially Baffert, Coil drifted back to last, dead last. "Dead meat" is more like it.
In the stands, Baffert threw a fit. He thought it was all over. "I was so upset," he bubbled later. "I thought it was over. I told Martin to ride his race, but I didn't expect this.
"But what he did was incredible. The victory belongs to the horse, of course, but especially to Martin. When they went past Shackleford, I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
Garcia's artistry was the best patient, come-from-a-mile-behind ride I've seen since Calvin Borel worked a miracle to make Mine That Bird the winner of the Kentucky Derby.
Garcia meekly conceded he did not expect to be so far behind, but he had no choice. "But turning for home, I had a ton of horse," he said. "He is just such a talented horse."
Coil paid $8.40 to win, running the nine furlongs in a workmanlike 1:48.2, before a crowd of 38,895, down slightly from last year but better than 2009.
Shackleford was beaten a scant neck after looking the winner a furlong out. Talk about a hard luck horse. He stumbled coming out of the gate then pressed the pace behind Joe Vann, took over on the turn and appeared set to vault to the top of the three-year-old division.
It was not to be, but this horse has danced all the dances through the Triple Crown. He's as honest as they come.
His jockey Jesus Castanon said, "I had a good trip. He was sitting in a perfect spot. I have no excuse. He gave me his best."
Not much could be said for the others. Ruler On Ice, the Belmont shocker, plugged home to get third, more than two lengths behind Shackleford. None of the others had any excuse.
Still, it should be noted that yet another favorite has bitten the dust in this unprecedented year of upsets. We're still waiting for a favorite to get to the winner's circle.
Coil's win scrambled the three-year-old group more than ever. All eyes now swing to the Travers in a month to sort the mess.Follow @NYPostsports