On March 29 at Gulfstream Park, Dr Post returned from a layoff of nearly 10 months, made his second career start, and beat maidens. The day before, Tiz the Law won the Florida Derby.
Less than three months later, Dr Post, in only his fourth start, and third of the year, finished second to Tiz the Law in the Belmont Stakes. Those two are scheduled to meet again Sept. 5 in the Kentucky Derby, but they are taking different routes toward Louisville. For Dr Post, his itinerary takes him to New Jersey, where he will look to continue his rapid ascension among the 3-year-old ranks in the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational on Saturday at Monmouth Park.
“He’s made a lot of progress in a short amount of time,” Dr Post’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, said in a telephone interview earlier this week. “Hopefully, he has a couple more forward moves in him.”
Dr Post, the second choice on the track morning line, drew the rail for the 1 1/8-mile race and starts just inside morning-line favorite Authentic, the Santa Anita Derby runner-up, in the field of seven.
A lot is on the line. The Haskell offers 170 points overall, with 100 to the winner, on the system used by Churchill Downs to determine the field for the Derby. Monmouth Park and BetMakers are offering a $1 million bonus to any horse who can win the Haskell, Derby, and Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 7 at Keeneland. And the Haskell winner gets a fees-paid berth into the BC Classic via the Win and You’re In program.
The Haskell is race 12 on a 14-race card that begins at noon Eastern and includes five other stakes, four of them graded, most notably the Grade 1 United Nations for long-distance grass runners.
Dr Post is 2 for 3 this year. He was second best in the Belmont to the ante-post favorite for the Derby, but acquitted himself well, earning a Beyer Speed Figure of 95.
“I thought he ran very well in the Belmont. It was a speed-conducive racetrack, so he was a little against the grain,” Pletcher said, while acknowledging that no one was beating Tiz the Law that day.
Since then, Dr Post – who trained sharply earlier this year in Florida at Palm Beach Downs – has continued his eye-catching morning drills, with two works on the training track at Belmont Park that were officially a half-mile, but included an extensive gallop-out, standard-operating procedure for Pletcher.
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“His two works after the Belmont have been very, very strong,” Pletcher said.
Irad Ortiz Jr. rode Dr Post in his last two starts, but because Saratoga is requiring all jockeys who want to ride there to remain there for the meet, Ortiz is bypassing the Haskell. Joe Bravo, nicknamed “Jersey Joe” en route to winning 13 riding titles at Monmouth, takes over.
“We’ve had good success with him, and he knows Monmouth as well as anyone,” Pletcher said.
Pletcher said he chose the Haskell as a final Derby prep for Dr Post because he liked the timing of the race compared to the Travers – where Tiz the Law is headed – on Aug. 8 at Saratoga.
“I like having seven weeks to the Derby as opposed to going in the Travers at a mile and a quarter four weeks before the Derby,” Pletcher said.
Authentic suffered his first loss when second to the highly regarded Honor A. P. in the Santa Anita Derby, his first try at 1 1/8 miles. He has earned Beyer Figures of 98 in his last two starts, tops in the field. Authentic has not always left the gate alertly, which is something trainer Bob Baffert has emphasized to Mike Smith, who takes over Saturday.
“The break is key,” Baffert said. “He needs to get away from there and get into a nice rhythm.”
Smith has not ridden at Del Mar this year, and he did not ride at Los Alamitos – he has not ridden in California since June 21 at Santa Anita – thus making him eligible to ride out of town at the moment. But upon his return to California on Sunday, he must pass a coronavirus test before being allowed to ride at Del Mar beginning next weekend.
At Monmouth on Saturday, all riders must test negative before being allowed on the grounds.
Ny Traffic has yet to win a stakes, but has run a series of good races this year, including second-place finishes in the Louisiana Derby and, most recently, the Matt Winn, in which he got a Beyer Figure of 95. He should get a good stalking trip after starting from the outside post.
“He’s not the best of the crop, but he’s gotten better and better and better,” his trainer, Saffie Joseph Jr., said on a teleconference earlier in the week.
The other four – longshots Ancient Warrior, Fame to Famous, Jesus’ Team, and Lebda – will need plenty to go right, and a whole lot to go wrong among the big three, to prevail.
Unlike last year, when oppressive heat forced the Haskell card to be delayed, with several lesser races abandoned, this year’s weather is more hospitable. The National Weather Service is forecasting a mostly sunny day with a high of 89 degrees.
Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, attendance is limited. Monmouth has sold 1,000 general admission tickets, and another 500 admissions to its Blu Grotto restaurant, all through the track’s website. In addition, the track is admitting owners, trainers, and guests of the race’s sponsors.
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