Ladies and Gentlemen, PTF here and I’m happy to introduce our latest contributor over here at the In the Money blog and it’s my old pal Brian Hoffacker, who I met back in the day at — yep, you guessed it — the Paddock Bar at Saratoga. Brian is an ace handicapper who in previous years has previewed and trip-noted every runner in the Kentucky Derby in the weeks leading up to the event. This year, he’s bringing his act to us and we thank him for it. Check back (nearly) every day for a new article from Brian. Take it away, my man!
Spring has come. Finally. Winter sure did leave it’s wrath.
The polar vortex, the snow, the rain.
You hate Tom Brady and the Patriots won the Super Bowl. You got sequestered on El Chapo’s jury. You work for Boeing. None of which is to mention that you love horse racing and our revered sport is battered and bruised after a rash of fatalities at Santa Anita.
But winter has succumbed and we’ve endured. Hopefully we’ve learned from the experiences and come through an improved, smarter, stronger, and safer industry. So let’s take a brief respite and celebrate spring’s full bloom with the event that encompasses that best, the run for the roses, the Kentucky Derby.
Now let’s cash a ticket.
Haikal comes into this Derby field largely off of his exciting win in the Gotham stakes in March, where he got up late with a flourish before again finishing fast, resulting in a 3rd place finish last out in the Wood Memorial. A decided deep closer who comes from the clouds, Haikal has demonstrated stark talent in all of his five career starts; his record now standing at 5-3-1-1. This is unsurprising as Haikal is a well-bred half brother to the magnificently talented Takaful, who took down the G1 Vosburgh at six furlongs beating older horses in his three year old campaign. Haikal, like Takaful, is trained by an ace in Kiaran McLaughlin, who nearly scored in the KY Derby in 2005 with, longshot, Closing Argument before having to settle for second at the wire. Having graduated from his apprenticeship at Aqueduct over the winter (the only track he’s raced at), Haikal has all the markers of a standout horse, still unexposed with plenty of untapped potential.
Haikal appears to be as classy as any of his three year old foes at this juncture. He’s dead game and seems to have an idea of where the wire is. Should he get a pace setup to suit him later on this year, he may very well be the horse to beat in the G1 H. Alan Jerkins at Saratoga this summer.
Despite these capabilities, Haikal may be ill-suited for the Kentucky Derby. The mile and a quarter distance of the race is our foremost concern about his Derby chances. Bred to be best as a sprinter/miler, Haikal has confirmed this notion on the racetrack, with his strongest performances having come at six and seven furlongs. Stretching out to a mile in the Gotham, Haikal was very lucky to benefit from a monumental pace up front which left his competition incredibly vulnerable at the wire. Still, with a perfect trip and setup, Haikal was just up in the final strides against a field in which the jury is still out on. Stretching out in the Wood, his lone two-turn try, the nine furlongs proved detrimental to Haikal as it marked the first time he wasn’t able to contend for the winner’s crown, even with another very beneficial pace situation. While Haikal remained game and closed admirably in the lane, it was quite apparent he was not in the same ballpark of the top two finishers, Tactius and Tax respectively, both of whom he will meet again in the Derby.
As a horse who is so clearly deficient in tactical speed, who may likely face his first truly detrimental pace scenario in the KY Derby, Haikal is very much up against a multitude of factors at Churchill. Haikal’s pedigree and form has made it a near certainty that he is far better suited sprinting around one turn. Haikal zealots will be hoping there is a massive pace meltdown in the Derby and that his strong will can overcome his distance issues. Haikal’s finishing ability is not to be underestimated; we expect him to give maximum effort to clunk up for minor rewards. Though, boasting top New York connections and exciting looking PPs, Haikal may be a colossal underlay in the win pool under the twinspires and is an easy toss for us.
Here are our trip notes for Haikal:
Fifth career start: April 6th, Aqueduct, G2 Wood Memorial, one mile and an eighth
Haikal is #4
No speed early, paired with Math Wizard early on backstretch, very far behind on far turn behind a blazing pace up front, cut the corner, rallied with the flow of the race, came through late with plenty of room to spare between the 4th and 5th finishers; didn’t appear to gallop out with much. While it was quite a feat that Haikal was able to finish as close as he did to the top two from so far off the pace into the stretch, this rally was very much an optical illusion stretching out to a two-turn affair for the first time. This marked the first time Haikal didn’t threaten for the win position. It’s quite apparent the stretch-out did him no favors, even with a beneficial pace setup.
Fourth career start: March 9th, Aqueduct, G3 Gotham Stakes, one mile
Haikal is #5
Bumped Instagrand out of the gate to no consequence, no speed behind wicked pace up front, cut the corner still very far out of it, shifted outside while gaining, kicked in very nicely in final furlong, up with a rush over three rivals in final strides. Haikal made the most of his grand opportunity here, lucking out to get such a vicious pace to close into late. Despite being the only horse flying at the finish, Haikal still needed the length of the stretch to make the lead. Rajiv Maragh couldn’t have given this one a better ride.
Third career start: February 9th, Aqueduct, Jimmy Winkfield Stakes, seven furlongs
Haikal is #3
Broke fine, inside, drew closer on turn in tightly bunched field, slightly bumped just before cutting the corner to put mild pressure to leader Joevia in the two path, one-paced for a bit in a tight spot before deciding to come through late with just the one lane open to pass on the rail, up in time. This was a bit of an ugly race overall, slightly marred by a gold rail that Haikal took some advantage of. He stepped up in company here and asserted his class to eek out a victory despite such narrow quadrance in the stretch. A game individual.
Trip notes of Haikal’s first two career starts may be found in the comments section of this post.
Image courtesy of NYRA