You wouldn't bet on American Pharoah in the Haskell. What's the point of collecting $2.20? You wouldn't bet against American Pharoah in the Haskell. He's the best horse of his generation, much better than Sunday's competition, and there's little reason to expect that he will lose. To play someone else to win would just be throwing your money away.
So one option Sunday will be to keep your money in your pocket, sit back and watch and enjoy a great horse. But what's the fun in that? There are ways to make money playing the Haskell, but to do so, you have to look at it as two races. One is what looks like a one-horse race: American Pharoah versus no one. The other is the race for second, and that's an interesting, fairly wide-open seven-horse affair.
By raising the Haskell purse from $1 million to $1.75 million, Monmouth not only kept the American Pharoah camp happy, but guaranteed that there would be a decent amount of horses in the field. The runner-up will earn $330,000, which makes the race for second the equivalent of a normal race with a purse of $550,000.
To figure out which horse is going to run second, you first have to figure out how the race is going to unfold. With trainers also having the option of starting their 3-year-olds this weekend in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga and the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park, there will likely be a defection or two from the Haskell. But it's clear that this is going to be a race loaded with early speed. Along with American Pharoah, Competitive Edge, Nonna's Boy and Mr. Jordan all like to go from the gate, and some combination of that group figures to mix it up pretty good on the front end. When lesser horses get involved in a hot pace with a great horse like American Pharoah, they're going to lose the battle every time. Pharoah figures to bury the early speed horses, who should be exhausted turning for home.
Which is right at the point where American Pharoah figures to start pulling away on his way to victory. From the back of the pack, someone figures to be picking up the pieces and ready to clunk up for second. The most likely horse to do so is Keen Ice.
Keen Ice has only won one race in his life, but he's a better horse than that record suggests. By Curlin, he looks like a late developer. After showing nothing in the Louisiana Derby, he finished seventh in the Kentucky Derby, beating half the field. The best was yet to come.
He showed up next in the Belmont and finished third behind American Pharoah, beaten by 7 ½ lengths. It was the best performance of his career and earned his top Beyer number, a 96. It was also a race that is better than it looks on paper.
Midway through the far turn, jockey Kent Desormeaux seemed to sense that he was beaten, which he was. No one was going to catch American Pharoah. For a good 100 yards or so, Desormeaux eased up on his mount and seemed content to finish back in the back. But he must have figured out that there was still big money to be made for finishing second or third and that his mount had something left. Inside the final three-sixteenths of a mile, a resurgent Keen Ice made up four or five lengths on runner-up Frosted.
The other horse to consider for the place spot is Upstart, but he's a tough read. The winner of the Fountain of Youth and the Holy Bull, he didn't disgrace himself when second behind Materiality in the Florida Derby. He looked like a legitimate contender in the Kentucky Derby, but instead was dreadful, losing by 60 lengths. This is his first start since the Derby and there's no telling how he will return to the races off such a poor effort. Like Keen Ice, he won't be involved in the early pace and, again, like Keen Ice, he has the talent to finish second.
One or the other should finish behind the Triple Crown champ. I'm going to go with a $20 exacta, American Pharoah over Keen Ice, and a $10 saver exacta, Pharoah over Upstart. I'll also play a $10 trifecta using Pharoah over Keen Ice and Upstart. These tickets won't break the bank if they win, but an $8 or $9 exacta or a $28 trifecta is going to feel a lot better than a $2.20 winner.