Racing Roundtable: Haskell, CCA Oaks, and Nest

July 25th, 2023

James Scully and Kellie Reilly opine on the major stakes action from the weekend in our latest Racing Roundtable. While three-year-olds took the spotlight in Saturday's Haskell (G1) and Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), Sunday was all about Nest's comeback victory over Clairiere in the Shuvee (G2) for older distaffers. 

How does Geaux Rocket Ride’s Haskell victory impact the three-year-old picture?

James Scully: It adds another major player to the equation. Geaux Rocket Ride was impressive, recording his first Grade 1 triumph in his fourth career start, and the three-year-old male division remains wide-open at this stage. Given the mediocre state of the older male dirt division, three-year-olds appear poised to make a serious impact this fall, and November’s Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Santa Anita probably will decide the championship.

Kellie Reilly: The Haskell underscored how the divisional title is completely up for grabs. While that’s to be expected in a year when different horses win each of the Triple Crown races, the sharing of the spoils, so to speak, at the top level has been even broader. From eight Grade 1s so far this season for three-year-olds (in open company, not restricted to fillies), there have been eight individual winners. Up-and-coming Geaux Rocket Ride took a bigger leap forward than I’d envisioned in the Haskell. But Mage performed admirably in a race that was not his goal; by swooping before flattening out, he ran very much like a horse needing this prep to build fitness for the Travers (G1).

If Mage can turn the Kentucky Derby (G1)/Travers double, he’d become the divisional leader. A similar comment applies to the top two from the Belmont (G1), Arcangelo and Forte. Geaux Rocket Ride won’t be at Saratoga, but trainer Richard Mandella’s consideration of the Pacific Classic (G1) opens up another possible path to a championship. If the rest of the sophomores continue to take turns beating each other, and Geaux Rocket Ride can topple older horses in Del Mar’s signature event, he’d put himself in pole position going into the Breeders’ Cup.

Will the CCA Oaks launch Wet Paint to divisional leadership?

JS: Along with registering her first Grade 1 win, Wet Paint regained some lost luster winning the Coaching Club American Oaks (G1), but she will need to carry her momentum forward after edging Sacred Wish, who was exiting a second in a Belmont allowance, by a neck. Last-place finisher Southlawn was the only open stakes winner she faced in the short field. Wet Paint will look to make a serious case for divisional leadership in the Alabama (G1) on Aug. 19.

KR: Wet Paint showed her gritty resolve and sustained closing kick to prevail, but the CCA Oaks was arguably more about who wasn’t there. In the normal scheme of things, fellow Godolphin homebred Pretty Mischievous would probably have aimed for a hat trick after victories in the Kentucky Oaks (G1) and Acorn (G1). The Godolphin brain trust had the idea to split them up, however, giving Wet Paint an opportunity for a Grade 1 laurel that would have been a lot tougher with Pretty Mischievous in opposition.

Also missing was Taxed, the impressive Black-Eyed Susan (G2) winner who packs a terrific late punch herself. Finally, Wet Paint didn’t have to face Hoosier Philly either, after that rival scratched with a minor foot issue. Hoosier Philly had exploited the Ellis Park speed bias to beat Wet Paint last time, and their Saratoga rematch wouldn’t have been as one-sided. Still, given how the 10-1 Sacred Wish established a break and nearly upset the CCA Oaks, maybe Hoosier Philly could have held on. Pretty Mischievous thereby remains the top sophomore filly, and Wet Paint needs to do more to change the equation.

Thoughts on Nest’s comeback win over Clairiere in the Shuvee?

JS: The four-horse Shuvee lacked pace and Nest flaunted her tactical advantage over Clairiere, tracking in second before surging to a clear lead in upper stretch. Clairiere may receive a more favorable set-up in future engagements, but the Shuvee highlighted another area of concern for the confirmed late runner.

Clairiere has recorded seven of her eight wins at 1 1/16 miles, the lone nine-furlong score coming in a four-horse Shuvee when Malathaat appeared off form and never fired. She’s performed admirably at times over a 1 1/8-mile distance, including a head third in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Distaff (G1), but Clairiere remains 1-for-7 at the trip.

Nest has won three of her last four starts at 1 1/8 miles, the lone setback being a fourth as the favorite in the 2022 Distaff, and the four-year-old filly came back strong in the Shuvee. It will be interesting to see what path she takes to the Distaff at Santa Anita, whether Todd Pletcher ships elsewhere or takes the path of least resistance in New York. Nest has dropped her last two starts outside the Empire State.

KRNest’s tactical superiority proved more important than Clairiere’s race-fitness, as Aron Wellman of Eclipse Thoroughbred Partners aptly observed. It remains to be seen whether Clairiere will get a better set-up in their projected rematch in the Aug. 25 Personal Ensign (G1) over the same track and trip. Even if that pans out for Clairiere, though, Nest might just be too good at this time of year at Saratoga. After all, Nest was at her absolute best at the Spa last summer. Perhaps the more intriguing question is whether she can still blossom come the Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita. Clairiere has run mighty races in defeat in the past two runnings of the Distaff, including when she left Nest behind as the beaten favorite at Keeneland last fall. She promises to deliver her typically top effort again on the first Saturday in November, when the Eclipse Award could be decided.