Stamina was at a premium as Cyberknife kept on best in the stretch to beat shorter-odds rivals in a thrilling finish to the $1million 2022 Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park (Saturday, July 23). A photo was needed to confirm the result.
Saddled by Brad Cox for Al Gold and sent off at 7/1 with the USA racebooks, Cyberknife beat Bob Baffert’s 2/1 shot Taiba, the Santa Anita Derby winner, a head under the masterful Florent Geroux in a record-breaking time of 1.46.24. It was Geroux’s second win of the day on the scorched track.
The heavy favorite, Chad Brown’s Jack Christopher, was disappointing and finished third. His regular pilot Jose Ortiz rode him with confidence close to the pace and took the lead a quarter of a mile from the wire. His supporters were expecting a return on their investments but he was found wanting when it mattered and was beaten two and a quarter lengths. The gas seemed to run low and it probably did not help that he seemed uneasy before the start. Ortiz took his feet out of the irons to calm him before going into the gates.
Jack Christopher was the first choice for most bettors for understandable reasons. He was unbeaten in his previous four starts which included a stunning 10 length victory in the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park in June. That race was run over seven furlongs and the style of his win gave his connections confidence that the one mile one furlong trip of the Haskell would pose no problems for him. This son of Munnings had triumphed in the grade 1 Champagne Stakes run over a mile at the same track as juvenile.
The Dale Romans trained 26/1 shot Howling Time was four lengths behind him in fourth under Joseph Talamo followed by Jesus Cruz’s Benevengo (56/1). Saffie Joseph’s more popular Florida Derby winner, White Abarrio (7/1), was fancied by some to be a beneficiary if there was a strong pace but never looked likely to get involved in the action and was beaten more than 30 lengths with only One Time Willard (64/1) behind him.
Winning the Haskell was a dream for Al Gold, especially with this horse. This son of the legendary Gun Runner was bred by Kenneth and Sarah Ramsey in Kentucky out of Awesome Flower, a daughter of the stamina-laden Flower Alley. He was purchased for $400,000 as a yearling at the Fasig-Tipton Yearlings Showcase and was a beaten favorite as a juvenile over an inadequate six and a half furlongs at Churchill Downs in November 2021. He rewarded his followers when starting as the heavy favorite at Fair Grounds a month later in a maiden special weight over the distance of a mile and a half a furlong.
In April this year Cyberknife repaid his purchase price by winning the Arkansas Derby, run over the Haskell distance. It was his owner’s first Grade 1 win. He started as the 6/1 second favorite and won comfortably by almost three lengths. The Kentucky Derby was next but Cyberknife paid the price for chasing the suicidal pace and finished 18th, beaten more than 40 lengths. In June he was successfully dropped into Grade 3 company and narrowly beat Howling Time in the Matt Winn Stakes, also run at Churchill Downs. That was a race he was expected to win as the 1/2 favorite.
Experts understandably believed that more was needed from him for the Haskell but the slightly longer trip had to be a positive. Gold was concerned about his draw in stall one but Geroux was not going to repeat the mistake of the Kentucky Derby and let the action unfold in front of him, hugging the rail and gaining ground when others weakened.
The 66-year-old Gold has owned horses for more than 15 years and has always wanted to win the Haskell – he has watched the race more times than he can remember. Monmouth Park is the track Gold calls his ‘home away from home’. Cyberknife’s name was not inspired by the horses in his pedigree but is a tribute to the efficiency of the high-tech tool used for his owner’s successful prostate cancer treatment.
Cox is hoping that Cyberknife’s stamina could make him a contender for the Travers Stakes in August and the distance of a mile and a quarter seems feasible for him. The Haskell win also guarantees him a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Keeneland in November as a ‘Win and You’re In’ race. That is an invitation he is very likely to accept if Cyberknife is fit and well.
On the same day as Cyberknife’s Haskell victory another golden ticket race was won by a horse that outstayed much more popular rivals in the UK. The big guns lined up for the prestigious Group 1 King George VI and Elizabeth Qipco Stakes run over a mile and a half on the turf at Ascot.
Juddmonte’s impressive Irish Derby winner Westover was the 13/8 favorite. Prince Faisal’s 2021 Saudi Cup and Longines Dubai Sheema Classic winner Mishriff was closest to him in the betting at 5/2 but a horse owned by much less powerful connections prevailed.
Pyledriver was the long shot of the field of six at 18/1 but won emphatically by two and three quarter lengths for his unknown owners and relatively low profile UK trainers William Muir and Chris Grassick. Whilst other horses were bred by powerful operations or purchased for substantial sums this was the horse that nobody was interested in at the sales and was bought back by his vendors for $15,000 as a foal. He has proved a dream horse for his owners who are described as the La Pyle Partnership. They are ordinary people without fortunes behind them.
The stamina laden 2021 Prix de l’Arc De Triomphe winner, Torquator Tasso (16/1) finished second ahead of the slow starting Mishriff in third. The favorite raced too freely and was beaten 18 lengths in fifth.
Stamina was the key to both Cyberknife and Pyledriver’s victories. Pace is rarely lacking in Breeders’ Cup races so it could prove valuable for them again in November.