Bob Baffert doesn’t always draw the rail in major races; it just seems that way. And so it was, when Baffert received his annual pre-Haskell Invitational (gr. I) phone call at the luncheon draw and was informed Coil had just drawn the rail, he came up with one of his standard hide-my-disapppointment with wit lines.
“The fix must be in,” Baffert said. “But he’s already in the air; there’s nothing I can do.”
Baffert knows something about winning the Haskell, having captured the 1 1/8-mile event in his last four attempts and finishing in the money in seven of his eight starts. His winning streak started with Coil’s sire, Point Given, in 2001.
Coil is not as proven or battle-tested as Baffert’s four winners, and has been rank early in his only two starts around two turns. He also has never even run on dirt.
Baffert is hoping the removal of the colt’s blinkers will help him settle comfortably behind horses, but drawing the rail is not going to help, especially with another speedy colt, Joe Vann, directly outside him in post 2 and Pants On Fire, the quicker of Kelly Breen’s two starters, breaking from post 3.
That sets up a perfect scenario for Preakness (gr. I) winner Shackleford , who normally wants to be on or near the lead, as it will allow jockey Jesus Castanon to assess the situation inside him.
Baffert admitted his previous Haskell winners – Point Given, War Emblem, Roman Ruler, and Lookin At Lucky -- were “further along” than Coil, and his “resume isn’t as strong as the others I’ve brought there,” He also said he is still trying to figure out the colt’s style of running.
“This will be more of a class test for him,” Baffert said. “I’m just going to let Martin (Garcia) do his own thing.”
Coil’s pedigree and watching him compete over the synthetic surfaces suggest he could improve on the dirt, and should show a good deal of improvement without blinkers. The morning line says he will be popular at the windows, as all Baffert horses are. He was made the 3-1 second choice behind Shackeford, ahead of Breen’s pair at 4-1.
Another horse who drew well was Astrology , who will break from the outside in the eight-horse field. There is always the danger of getting hung wide when you break from the far outside post, but Astrology is a big, long-striding horse who has been stuck down on the rail in some of his biggest races this year, and he should appreciate being clear this time and allowed to use his big stride. If you can forgive his dismal effort in the Iowa Derby (gr. III) and look back at his big races in the Preakness, Jerome, and Sunland Derby, then Astrology could be the overlay in here.
As for his inexplicably bad performance at Prairie Meadows, trainer Steve Asmussen put it simply: “He was really consistent until he wasn’t.”
So, it looks as if the Haskell is going to be an intriguing race from start to finish, as Coil, Joe Vann, Pants on Fire, and Shackelford play cat and mouse early, while Ruler on Ice, Astrology, J J's Lucky Train, and Concealed Identity sit back and watch how everything plays out.
The key will be how Coil settles and relaxes off the pace. And if he does, how he finishes. If he can take back on his own, relax, and finish up strongly, this colt has the raw talent to become racing’s newest 3-year-old star. As does Astrology, if he returns to his form in the Preakness.