Sidelines with John Clay

Irish War Cry the sentimental pick in the Haskell Invitational

Irish War Cry runs on the track during the Tuesday morning workout session at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2017 in preparation for the Kentucky Derby. The Wood Memorial winner, who ran second in the Belmont Stakes, is the morning line favorite for Sunday’s Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
Irish War Cry runs on the track during the Tuesday morning workout session at Churchill Downs on May 2, 2017 in preparation for the Kentucky Derby. The Wood Memorial winner, who ran second in the Belmont Stakes, is the morning line favorite for Sunday’s Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park. Lexington Herald-Leader

An impressive seven-horse field will head to the starting gate Sunday for The War on the Shore, otherwise known as the 50th Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J.

NBC has the coverage from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. of the $1 million Grade 1 as local hero Irish War Cry will try to become the ninth betting favorite in the past 13 years to win the race.

Triple Crown winner American Pharoah won the race in 2015. Preakness winner Exagerrator took last year’s Haskell, in which Kentucky Derby victor Nyquist finished fourth in a six-horse field.

Irish War Cry: The New Jersey-bred is certainly the home-track favorite given that his owner, Isabelle de Tomaso, is the daughter of former Monmouth president Amory Haskell, for whom the race is named.

In fact, after Irish War Cry won the Grade 2 Wood Memorial at Aqueduct, trainer Graham Motion joked that the connections would rather win the Haskell than the Grade 1 Kentucky Derby. Not to worry, however, as the son of Curlin gave way at the turn for home at Churchill Downs, dropping all the way from third to his 10th-place finish.

Motion returned Irish War Cry to the home base at Fair Hill, skipped the Preakness, then ran an impressive second to Tapwrit in the Belmont on June 10. And remember, Curlin won the Breeders’ Cup Classic at Monmouth in 2007.

The bad news: Irish War Cry drew the rail for Sunday.

Battle of Midway: After running third in the Kentucky Derby on May 6, the son of Smart Strike was given six weeks off before winning the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes by 4 1/4 lengths at Santa Anita on June 24. He faced just three challengers that day but posted a career-high Equibase speed figure of 109.

This will be just the second time the Jerry Hollendorfer-trained colt has run outside of California. Kentucky Derby day was the first. It should be noted, however, that Battle of Midway has never finished out of the money. He has won three races, finished second once and third twice. And Hollendorfer won the 1989 Haskell with King Glorious.

Timeline: The lesser-known of trainer Chad Brown’s two Haskell entries, Timeline is a perfect four for four in his career after going unraced at two. The son of Hard Spun won his debut at Gulfstream on March 4, then an allowance optional claiming race at Aqueduct on April 6. His first foray into stakes was a success when he won the Grade 3 Peter Pan Stakes in the slop at Belmont Park on May 13.

Last time out, Timeline captured the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes against four others on June 18, which gave him a win over the Monmouth track.

Practical Joke: Owned and trained -- Klaravich Stables and William H. Lawrence; Chad Brown -- by the same connections for Preakness winner Cloud Computing, Practical Joke won the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes on July 8 after finishing fifth in the Kentucky Derby. The son of Into Mischief finished second in the Blue Grass on April 8 at Keeneland.

As a two-year-old, Practical Joke won the Grade 1 Hopeful at Saratoga and the Grade 1 Champagne at Belmont before running third in the Grade 1 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, won by Classic Empire. He was second to Gunnevera in the Fountain of Youth in February. That was the same race where Holy Bull winner Irish War Cry failed to fire and ran seventh.

McCraken: A troubled trip damaged McCraken’s chances in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished eighth. Trainer Ian Wilkes kept Janis Whitham’s homebred at Churchill Downs for his successful follow-up, a 2 1/4-length win in the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes on June 17.

The son of Ghostzapper showed his talent by winning the Sam F. Davis on Feb. 11. A slight leg injury knocked him off training and caused him to come up short in a third-place finish in the Blue Grass Stakes at Keeneland. He also suffered a left leg injury in the Kentucky Derby but is apparently good to go now.

Hence: The son of Street Boss went from worst to first in an eight-horse field to win the Grade 3 Iowa Derby on July 7 at Prairie Meadows. That put a smile back on the faces of trainer Steve Asmussen and owner Calumet Farm after Hence finished 11th in the Kentucky Derby and ninth in the Preakness.

Mike Smith rode Hence in Iowa, but jockey Paco Lopez picked up the mount for the Haskell. Lopez has done well at Monmouth. And Asmussen won the 2009 running with Rachel Alexandra.

Girvin: The Risen Star and Louisiana Derby winner is looking to finally catch a break. Girvin battled a front hoof quarter crack before running 13th in the Kentucky Derby. He returned for the Grade 3 Ohio Derby on June 24 at Thistledown, only to be caught and beaten by a nose in the stretch by Blue Grass Stakes winner Irap.

Trainer Joe Sharp says the son of Tale of Ekati is fully healthy and rocking his Louisiana form. Mike Smith piloted Girvin in both the Kentucky Derby and the Ohio Derby, but jockey Robby Albarado will be aboard Sunday.

My pick: It’s just too good a story for Irish War Cry not to win the Haskell.

Haskell Invitational post positions







Irish War Cry

Rajiv Maragh

Graham Motion



Battle of Midway

Flavien Prat

Jerry Hollendorfer




Javier Castellano

Chad Brown



Practical Joke

Joel Rosario

Chad Brown




Brian Hernandez

Ian Wilkes




Paco Lopez

Steve Asmussen




Robby Albarado

Joe Sharp


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