Timeform US Preview: Wilkes ace value to crack Haskell rivals

The betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes is the highlight of the American action this weekend
The betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes is the highlight of the American action this weekend

Mark Milligan previews the betfair.com Haskell Invitational Stakes at Monmouth Park this weekend and provides his best bet.

"A winner of five of his seven starts, McCraken has had excuses for his two defeats, when things just didn’t go his way in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, and when returning bloodied and bruised from a particularly rough Kentucky Derby."

Although just seven line up for the 50th renewal of Monmouth's betfair.com Haskell Invitational on Sunday (22:47 BST), it is a competitive affair, bringing together the likes of Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes runner-up Irish War Cry, along with several who have yet to make their marks at the top level but certainly promise to do so.

Morning Line favourite, and the standard-setter on Timeform ratings is Irish War Cry, whose aforementioned efforts in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont put him in with a fine chance of claiming his first Grade 1 victory. Successful twice at Grade 2 level (the Holy Bull at Gulfstream and the Wood Memorial at Aqueduct), Irish War Cry has thrown in the odd clunker along the way, and that tempers enthusiasm a tad for him at around 5/2.

Kentucky Derby form in general is well represented as Battle of Midway (third), Practical Joke (fifth), McCraken (eighth), Hence (eleventh), and Girvin (thirteenth) all renew rivalry with Irish War Cry. A fair few of the field had less than ideal trips at Churchill Downs, however, so it probably won't pay to take that form too literally, and they are better judged on other achievements.

Battle of Midway is one who pretty much had things go his way in Louisville, and that effort represented a peak performance from him. He didn't need to better that form when taking a Grade 3 contest at Santa Anita subsequently, and both those efforts put him firmly in the mix.

Likewise, Practical Joke didn't suffer too much in the melee that was the Kentucky Derby, and he ran good race there, but he bettered that effort quite considerably in taking the Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont last time. The key there looked to be the drop back in trip to a mile, and the jury is out as to whether he will be quite so effective stepping back to the two-turns and nine furlongs of the Haskell.

Closely matched on form with Practical Joke is McCraken, whose closing style might well be an advantage in a race that could unfold at a solid pace. A winner of five of his seven starts, McCraken has had excuses for his two defeats, when things just didn't go his way in the Blue Grass at Keeneland, and when returning bloodied and bruised from a particularly rough Kentucky Derby. Of the others that took part under the Twin Spires, both Hence and Girvin will need career bests if they are to take this, the overriding feeling being that both may come up just a touch short.

The one horse in the field who brings completely different strands of form in is Practical Joke's unbeaten stable companion Timeline. He is the one horse who has the potential to improve considerably on what he has already achieved - the times of his wins in particular marking him out as one who could go to the very top. Those efforts have been at a considerably lower level than this, however, and he has been priced up defensively, as tends to be the way with horses possessing a profile such as his.

In summary, a competitive and fast-paced race looks on the cards, which could set up well for McCraken to take advantage from the rear. A colt with a good turn of foot for a dirt horse, the feeling is we have yet to see exactly what he can do, and granted a decent gallop in front of him, Sunday may be the day when we see just that. At around 10/1 at the time of writing, he makes plenty of appeal.

Recommendation: Win Back McCraken in the betfair.com Haskell Invitational on Sunday

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