After four career starts, and four impressive victories, the undefeated Jack Christopher has earned an inordinate amount of braces.
“He’s exceptional,” said his trainer, four-time Eclipse Award winner Chad Brown.
So exceptional that on July 20, when four grade 1 winners were among the eight 3-year-olds entered in the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Stakes (G1) at Monmouth Parkit was Jack Christopher who was pegged at 3-2 odds.
On July 23, in New Jersey’s biggest day of racing, he will face a field that also includes Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1) victor Taiba the 7-5 morning-line favorite (post 2) who is trained by nine-time Haskell-winning trainer Bob Baffert, Arkansas Derby (G1) winner Cyberknife (post 1, 6-1), White Abarrio (post 6, 5-1), winner of the Curlin Florida Derby Presented by Hill ‘n’ Dale Farms at Xalapa (G1), Howling Time (post 4, 10-1), Benevengo (post 8, 20-1), One Time Willard (post 3, 30-1), and King of Hollywood (post 5, 30-1).
In the fixed odds wagering that will be available at Monmouth, the early prices on Jack Christopher and Taiba are quite different with Jack Christopher at even money and Taiba at 5-2.
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Yet for all of the brilliance Jack Christopher will bring to the Jersey Shore for Saturday’s 1 1/8-mile stakes, he will break from post 7 facing the kind of questions that the typical Haskell favorite—or starter for that matter—has already answered .
He has captured his four starts by a dazzling combined margin of slightly more than 25 lengths for his ownership group of Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Coolmore Stud, and Peter Brant, but the son of Munnings has never raced beyond a mile or been involved in a two-turn race.
Jack Christopher may possess speed figures to rival past Haskell-winning favorites such as American Pharoah , Maximum Security , Big Brown Rachel Alexandra, and Point Given, yet his lack of a route race adds an element of drama to the Haskell that has rarely, if ever, been attached to the favorite for the race.
In the case of those aforementioned past Haskell winners, they had already mastered two turns in no less of a formidable setting than a grade 1 stakes or Triple Crown race.
Meanwhile, Jack Christopher is coming off an electrifying performance June 11 in the seven-furlong Woody Stephens Stakes Presented by Mohegan Sun (G1), which he won by 10 lengths in a final time of a blistering 1:21.18.
Jack Christopher wins the Woody Stephens Stakes at Belmont Park
Thoro-graph gave the colt out of the Half Bear mare Rushin No Blushin a speed figure of minus 4 for his performance in the Stephens. That matched the number it gave Flightline the undefeated 4-year-old who sits atop both the National Thoroughbred Racing Association Top 10 poll and Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) poll.
Yet that performance does not necessarily answer the question of how Jack Christopher will handle the challenge of extending from seven furlongs to nine? Will he be as dominant around two turns as he has been in sprints and one-turn miles?
Or will a talented horse with the build and pedigree of a sprinter/miler find the ninth and final furlong of the Haskell a shade beyond his scope?
The answer will be provided Saturday, during a telecast on CNBC (5-6 pm ET), though Brown believes Jack Christopher will handle the challenge of an extra furlong while facing top-class rivals, most of whom have enough speed to create fast fractions and early pace pressure for him.
“I think this is the right time and place to do it,” said Brown, whose fleet colt has never been worse than second at any of the calls from the opening quarter on in his four starts. “It’s going to be a tough race with some real solid horses in there but I believe he can handle it.”
Even the connections trying to upend Jack Christopher know that the mystery of how the chestnut colt bred by Castleton Lyons and Kilboy Estate responds to a second turn holds the key to the outcome.
“Jack Christopher is obviously the fastest 3-year-old, but he has to go two turns and we’ll see what happens,” said Saffie Joseph Jr., who trains White Abarrio. “If he’s as good at two turns as he is at one, we’re all in trouble.”
Jack Christopher won the Champagne Stakes (G1) at 2 in his second start but then was scratched from the TVG Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Presented by Thoroughbred Aftercare Alliance (G1) when a shin issue was detected. The subsequent surgery to insert a screw in his left shin sidelined him long enough to knock him off the Triple Crown trail. Brown brought the bay colt back to the races through wins in the Pat Day Mile Stakes Presented by LG&E and KU (G2) on Kentucky Derby Day and the Woody Stephens.
Jack Christopher was a $135,000 purchase by Bradley Weisbord and Liz Crow on behalf of Bakke and Isbister from the Paramount Sales consignment at the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky Fall Yearling Sale.
“We planned to run two turns in the Breeders’ Cup last year, so it’s all about timing and here we are,” Brown said.
Taiba, Cyberknife, and White Abarrio all ran in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) with little success.
Gold Square’s Cyberknife won the Arkansas Derby (G1) for trainer Brad Cox but then fizzled in the Run for the Roses when he chased a wicked fast pace and cantered under the wire in 18th.
Tea gun runner colt bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey returned with a nose victory over Howling Time in the June 12 Matt Winn Stakes (G3) to prep for the Haskell, which holds a special meaning to his owner Al Gold, who has spent about five decades attending the races at Monmouth.
Cyberknife wins the Matt Winn Stakes at Churchill Downs
“The Derby didn’t take as much out of him as I thought. He bounced out of it in good order and it had a lot to do with (jockey Florent Geroux) galloping him back. That helped a lot,” Cox said. “He ran a career top figure last time, so he’s doing great.”
Out of the Flower Alley mare Awesome Flower, he was bought for $400,000 by Joe Hardoon, agent, at the Fasig-Tipton Selected Yearlings Showcase.
Zedan Racing Stables’ Taiba will be reunited with Baffert in the Haskell. Another son of Gun Runner, he romped in his March 5 debut at Santa Anita Park but was then switched to the barn of trainer Tim Yakteen when Baffert faced a 90-day suspension for Medina Spirit’s drug violation in the 2021 Kentucky Derby. Taiba won the Santa Anita Derby for Yakteen but then finished 12th in the Kentucky Derby.
He returned to Baffert after the suspension ended earlier this month and has been training sharply for his first start in more than two months.
“I don’t think about records,” Baffert said in reference to his record nine Haskell wins. “I think about the really great horses we sent there and I hope this guy is the same type of horse. He’s very talented and lightly bred but I feel he’s doing really well. We still don’t know much about him because he went from a maiden race to a grade 1 and was thrown into a 20-horse field, so he’s still learning. We still don’t know what his running style is.”
Bred by Bruce Ryan, Taiba was purchased by Gary Young, agent, for $1.7 million from the Hartley/DeRenzo Thoroughbreds consignment at The Gulfstream Sale, Fasig-Tipton’s select 2-year-olds in training sale.
C2 Racing Stable and La Milagrosa Stable’s White Abarrio reeled off wins in the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) and Florida Derby but was a distant 16th in the May 7 Run for the Roses. Since then, he finished second by a length in the Ohio Derby (G3).
The son of Race Day rallied from fifth to win the 1 1/8-mile Florida Derby and may benefit the most if a speed duel occurs.
“There seems to be a lot of speed in the race and he can be tactical. He can lay off if they go fast and be close if they go slow,” Joseph said. “We’ll let the race develop and hope for the best.”
White Abarrio wins the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park
White Abarrio was bred by Spendthrift Farm and was sold to Carlos Perez for $40,000 from the Nice and Easy Thoroughbreds consignment at the Ocala Breeders’ Sales March Sale of 2-Year-Olds in Training.
Albaugh Family Stables’ Howling Time (Not This Time ) will be seeking his first stakes win since taking the Street Sense Stakes in October for trainer Dale Romans.
Wasabi Ventures Stables’ Benevengo (Gormley ), trained by Jesus Cruz, won a June 24 allowance optional claimer at Monmouth after finishing fourth in the May 14 Long Branch Stakes at the New Jersey track.
One Time Willard and King of Hollywood were last-minute entrants who will be huge longshots.
Barrister Breeding’s One Time Willard (micromanaging ) will be running in an open stakes for the first time and is coming off a third in a July 15 optional claimer at Monmouth for New Jersey-breds.
Monmouth Stud and Pinnacle Racing Team’s King of Hollywood (Palace Malice ), a former claimer, was seventh in the TVG.com Pegasus Stakes, Monmouth’s prep for the Haskell.
The complete list of opening fixed odds from BetMakers are: Jack Christopher 1-1, Taiba 5-2, Cyberknife 6-1, White Abarrio 7-1, Benevengo 11-1, Howling Time 12-1, One Time Willard 100-1 , and King of Hollywood 100-1.