A forced change of tactics helped lightly raced Coil capture the the $1 million Resorts Casino Hotel Haskell Invitational (gr. I) (VIDEO) in a spirited stretch duel with favored Shackleford at Monmouth Park July 31.
Trainer Bob Baffert earned his fifth Haskell victory since Coil's sire, Point Given , won the important 3-year-old fixture in 2001. The result was also a repeat victory for owner Mike Pegram and partners Karl Watson and Paul Weitman, who won the race with Lookin At Lucky in 2010.
Before a crowd of 38,895, Coil put himself into the discussion for 3-year-old championship honors with the victory. The lightly-race colt raced without blinkers in the Haskell after a hard-luck loss in the Swaps Stakes (gr. II) at Hollywood Park July 9. In that race he pulled hard and was caught on the wire, losing by a head.
Coil, breaking from the rail under Martin Garcia, was expected to vie on the front end but instead was allowed to drop far back at the rear of the eight-horse pack after a poor start. Coil gradually progressed on the field up the backstretch, rallied five wide on the final turn, and reached contention in the lane with Shackleford.
Shackleford, the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner, dug in for the stretch drive and the two sophomores provided a thrilling battle to the wire. Coil, on the outside, got the advantage in the final strides to win by a neck. Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Ruler On Ice finished third. The final time was 1:48.20 for the 1 1/8-mile of 3-year-olds on a fast track.
The Haskell win gives Coil an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) at Churchill Downs Nov. 5 as part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series.
Baffert, who has won with the last five starters he has brought to the Haskell, said his heart sank when he saw Coil get away poorly.
“He didn’t break well and at that point I thought the race was over," he said. "Down the backstretch, I thought he was going to have to be like his dad, Point Given, to win. In the stretch, when he was passing Shackleford it was almost like I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Martin knows this horse. He knows him better than I do."
Coil bobbled a bit at the break after getting out of the gate a bit slowly and Garcia allowed him to trail, racing about eight lengths off the pacesetting Joe Vann in the first quarter-mile. Coil continued to lag behind through as swift quarter-mile fractions clicked off (:23.39, :47.02, and 1:10,68), setting up his impressive bid, which he launched on the outside of horses rounding the final bend.
“He was ready at the break,” Garcia said of the winner, “but just before the gate opened, he stepped back a bit and that was that. I wasn’t planning on being that far back, but once that happened I didn’t have a choice. I took him off the fence going up the backstretch, because that didn’t seem to be the best place today.
“I was sitting on a ton of horse turning for home,” Garcia said. “When I got to Shackleford my horse kind of waited. He tends to do that when he makes the lead. I just kept getting into him. I knew I had Shackleford, but my horse made it interesting.”
Garcia also was aboard Lookin At Lucky in last year's Haskell.
Shackleford, who stumbled at the start under Jesus Castanon, pressed Joe Vann on the outside and was poised to take the lead when the pacesetter gave way on the turn. Shackleford held a clear advantage briefly in upper stretch and continued to lead past mid-stretch. After a taxing Triple Crown campaign, the son of Forestry gave away nothing in a superb effort against Coil, who received a four-pound weight break.
“I had a good trip,” Castanon said. “He ran a good race like he always does. This is the way he likes to run. He was sitting in a perfect spot. I was pleased with his effort. He gave me his best. When the other horse came up to me, my horse felt him and was fighting back.”
Ruler on Ice, angled to the inside by Jose Valdivia Jr., rallied from fifth at mid-stretch to get a minor piece.
New Jersey trainer Kelly Breen, who saddled both Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire for George and Lori Hall, said he will continue on the championship trail with his Belmont winner.
“It’s on to the Travers for Ruler On Ice,” Breen said. “Jose (jockey Valdivia Jr.) said he was good. They just kind of quickened going to the third quarter and it took him a while to get going.”
J J's Lucky Train was a half-length back in fourth, with Pants On Fire, Joe Vann, Astrology , and Concealed Identity completing the order.
Coil, with just six lifetime starts, won the Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) June 11 at Hollywood in his only prior stakes win. He earned $600,000 for his fourth victory and has now earned $748,560. He was bred in Florida by Glen Hill Farm.
Sent off the second choice in the field of eight, Coil carried 118 pounds and paid $8.40, $4.80 and $3.60. He topped a $31.40 exacta with Shackleford, who returned $3.20 and $2.60. Ruler On Ice paid $4 to show.