HASKELL INVITATIONAL STAKES | PURSE: $1 MILLION | GRADE 1 | 3-YEAR-OLDS | 1 1/8 MILES
OCEANPORT, N.J. -- After watching a highly regarded 2-year-old flop in his debut on Saturday at Del Mar, then having their private plane re-routed to an inconvenient airport located miles from here early Sunday morning, the connections of Coil, trainer Bob Baffert said he thought they were enduring "the trip from hell."
"We didn't get to our hotel until 5 a.m.," he said. "And they were out of rooms, so we had to double up on some."
And then the gates opened Sunday afternoon for the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park, and Coil broke dead last in the field of eight.
"I thought, 'This trip from hell is not over yet,' " Baffert said.
But Coil provided a stirring final leg of the trip. Despite being the most inexperienced 3-year-old in the race, he rallied from last under a confident ride from jockey Martin Garcia to defeat Shackleford, the Preakness winner, and Ruler On Ice, the Belmont winner, adding his name to the elongated list of contenders for the male 3-year-old title.
Coil ($8.40), the second choice behind Shackleford, prevailed by a neck after a thrilling stretch drive. Ruler On Ice was another 2 1/4 lengths back in third.
"It's a happy ending to a trip that started off a little rocky," Baffert said.
On a warm, yet clear afternoon, Coil covered 1 1/8 miles on the fast main track in 1:48.20. The main track seemed to be favoring outside lanes all day, and that is where Coil wound up after starting from the rail.
"He got off the rail, and he got him to the outside," said Baffert's top assistant, Jim Barnes, who yelled himself hoarse while cheering adjacent to the winner's circle.
"How did you do it?" Baffert yelled to Garcia as he came back with Coil after the race.
"He won it," Garcia said, pointing to Coil.
Baffert, though, singled out Garcia as the critical reason for Coil's success. It was Garcia who first told Baffert to take blinkers off of Coil, an equipment change that was made for the Haskell. Coil responded with two sensational works at Del Mar in the fortnight before the Haskell.
"The ride this kid put on this horse was unbelievable," Baffert said at a postrace press conference.
Garcia said Coil "was ready, but threw his head up" just as the starting gate opened. Joe Vann took the early lead, and set fractions of 23.38 seconds for the opening quarter-mile and 47.02 seconds for a half-mile with Shackleford right alongside him.
Shackleford surged to the lead just after six furlongs were covered in 1:10.68, but by then Coil was launching his winning bid.
"I didn't want to move too soon," Garcia said. "When I first asked him, he took off. I said, 'Oh [expletive], I've got a lot of horse.' "
Garcia said Coil idled once getting up to Shackleford.
"My horse made it interesting," he said.
Coil gave Baffert his record fifth Haskell victory, all since 2001. Baffert, Garcia and Coil's owners -- Mike Pegram, Karl Watson and Paul Weitman -- teamed to win the race one year ago with Lookin At Lucky, who went on to be the champion 3-year-old male.
Coil is a son of Point Given, who gave Baffert his first Haskell win in 2001. Coil has now won four times in six starts.
The victory in the race, part of the Breeders' Cup Challenge series, gives Coil an automatic berth in the BC Classic at Churchill Downs in November.
Like Point Given and Lookin At Lucky, Coil will now pursue the 3-year-old title. Pegram said the Travers at Saratoga is next.
"I'd be shocked if we didn't go," Pegram said. "This was his first race on dirt. Where else are you going to race on dirt?"