A preview of what the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission may ultimately decide could have been delivered July 17 by the stewards at Monmouth Park.
While there’s no telling how long it may take the KHRC to determine if they will disqualify Medina Spirit from his victory in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) for a post-race positive drug test and elevate Juddmonte’s Mandaloun from the runner-up to the winner, it took the Monmouth stewards just a matter of minutes to hand the homebred son of Into Mischief a victory in the $1,005,000 TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1).
Though Hot Rod Charlie edged Mandaloun by a nose after a wild stretch duel, the victory proved to be short-lived as he was disqualified and placed last for coming in during the stretch run, clipping heels with Midnight Bourbon and causing that colt to stumble and unseat jockey Paco Lopez.
Owner Ron Winchell of Winchell Thoroughbreds said initial reports were that Midnight Bourbon was fine after running off once Lopez tumbled to the ground. Lopez, who was kicked by Midnight Bourbon, suffered a soft tissue injury to his knee and ankle and said afterward, “I’m good man. I am fine. I am just going to ice up.”
Meanwhile, the stumble and the ensuing disqualification generated a startling turnabout to a race that seemed destined to be remembered as a classic edition of the Haskell.
“To be honest, I don’t even think about what could happen with the Kentucky Derby anymore. It’s long gone. It’s in the past. We just want to march forward with this colt. He’s a good horse,” said Brad Cox, who trains Mandaloun. “We’re proud of his performance today. He ran huge.”
For Garrett O’Rourke, general manager of Juddmonte USA, there was pride in a performance that netted Mandaloun a free, “Win and You’re In” spot in the Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) and put him in position to collect a $1 million BetMasters Bonanza if he can also win the Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1) and the Classic.
(L-R): Florent Geroux, Garrett O’Rourke, and Brad Cox hoist the Haskell trophy
“He was extremely well-prepared and we’re extremely proud of his race,” O’Rourke said. “I feel like he ran a winning race.”
Though there were seven starters, the Haskell shaped up as a four-horse race on paper and it turned out that way. Spendthrift Farm’s Following Sea (7-2 odds) set the pace in the 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-olds but without a race beyond 6 1/2 furlongs under his belt, he gave way after leading through six furlongs in a quick 1:10.64.
Midnight Bourbon, the Preakness Stakes (G1) runner-up and 5-1 fourth choice, moved up from second to take the lead turning for home but he was quickly joined from the inside by Florent Geroux and 3-1 second choice Mandaloun and the outside by Flavien Prat and Hot Rod Charlie, the Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) runner-up and 4-5 favorite.
Boat Racing, Gainesway Stable, Roadrunner Racing, and William Strauss’ Hot Rod Charlie appeared to have the most momentum and edged to a half-length lead at the eighth pole. Yet in doing so, he moved in enough paths to draw alongside Midnight Bourbon and clip heels, causing that rival to stumble and nearly fall as Lopez came off.
Though Hot Rod Charlie and Mandaloun engaged in a heated battle to the wire that went to Hot Rod Charlie, it didn’t matter. The foul led to Hot Rod Charlie being placed last with Mandaloun ($8.20) declared the winner, Following Sea, who was 18 1/4 lengths behind Mandaloun, moved up to second and trainer Jerry Hollendorfer and Dennis January’s 56-1 shot Antigravity was awarded third.
Jockey Florent Geroux celebrates aboard Mandaloun after winning the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park
Casting a cloud over the incident was that earlier this year the New Jersey Racing Commission outlawed jockeys from using their riding crop except for safety.
Afterward, Prat said he might have been able to handle Hot Rod Charlie better if he had been allowed to use his crop early in the stretch run.
“Yes, the lack of a crop came into play. I was trying to correct him as much as I could,” Prat said. “If I could have hit him just one time left-handed, we would have been just fine, but it is what it is.”
Owner Strauss accepted the disqualification with a great amount of sportsmanship.
“Flavien has a good left hand and right hand so maybe if he hit him lefthanded, he could have straightened him out, but that’s not what happened,” Strauss said. “Nobody else out there could use a whip, so it’s not an excuse. It’s a level playing field that cost us the race.
“I haven’t seen a replay but I’m sure it’s the right call if the stewards made it,” he added. “It’s disappointing but welcome to the world of horse racing. I hope (Lopez) is OK and (Midnight Bourbon) seems fine. As long as there’s no injury to a human or an animal it’s fine. We’ll live to fight another day and so will they. We’ll come back and get them next time. ‘Charlie’ always gives us his best. I’m so proud of him.”
Though Strauss had yet to talk with trainer Doug O’Neill, he said it was unlikely that the son of Oxbow would move on to the Aug. 28 Travers since it was not in the original plans for the colt.
Cox, who also trains Godolphin’s Essential Quality, the early favorite for the Travers, was uncertain if Mandaloun would run in the Travers at Saratoga Race Course, even with a $1 million bonus at stake.
“I don’t want to make any decisions based on incentives for horses,” said Cox, who will ship the bay colt to Saratoga July 18 and monitor him. “It’s more about watching the horse and things like timing and doing what’s right for the horse.”
Final time was 1:47.38.
The win was the fifth in eight starts and first grade 1 win for Mandaloun, who has earned $1,651,252.
On the business side, attendance was 20,983 with a total handle of $16,414,535.