The $1m Grade 1 Betfair.com Haskell Invitational (22:47 BST) tops a superb card at Monmouth Park on Sunday, bringing together once more the Kentucky Derby and Preakness victors, Nyquist and Exaggerator, as well as several other talented three-year-olds in Gun Runner and the lightly-raced American Freedom.
Nyquist was imperious in seven starts before justifying favouritism at Churchill Downs, always close to the pace and running out a solid winner over Gun Runner and the late-closing Exagerrator. The tables were turned in the Preakness, however, with Exaggerator gaining his revenge over a sloppy track that probably wasn't ideal for Nyquist. If the forecast thunderstorms miss and the Monmouth surface is fast, there is every chance Nyquist will rebound back to his best.
Exaggerator's best form has been shown on wet tracks when getting a fast pace to run at. Those scenarios were perfect for him to gain victories in the Santa Anita Derby and the aforementioned Preakness Stakes. A poor effort in the Belmont is best forgiven, but this race has been a late call for Exaggerator's connections, and it could be that he will need the rain to come once more to enhance his prospects.
The solid Gun Runner has done little wrong in his second season, winning a pair of Grade 2s and the Grade 3 Matt Winn Stakes last time. His only defeat came behind Nyquist and Exaggerator in the Run for the Roses, where he was worthy of a little extra credit for being positioned close to the solid pace. It would be no surprise were he to take a further step forward here.
Bob Baffert has a superb record in this race, having won five of the last six renewals, and often targets it with his best three-year-old. It seems significant that this year he relies on the unexposed American Freedom, who has just four starts under his belt. A winner of three of those four outings, American Freedom was most impressive in taking the Grade 3 Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows last time. The speed figure for that race was good, and puts him within hailing distance of the more established runners in this race.
Sunny Ridge and Awesome Slew complete the six-runner field, but in all probability look up against it and appear to be just making up the numbers.
With a pace scenario that is tricky to forecast, the percentage call is to go with the proven form of Nyquist. However, the fine record of Bob Baffert in this race, along with the progressive and unexposed profile of American Freedom make him a tempting alternative, and he is taken to further enhance his trainer's roll of honour in this contest. In the hope that conditions are dry, Gun Runner is taken over Exaggerator to complete the trifecta.
There are several good-quality Graded races on the Haskell undercard, but from a betting perspective, they look very tricky to decipher. The most solid proposition looks to be Bradester in the Grade 2 Monmouth Cup Stakes (20:29 BST). Unbeaten in two starts so far this year, Bradester's was very close to his best form when narrowly taking the Stephen Foster Handicap from Eagle and Majestic Harbour last time. A repeat of that will see him prove very hard to beat in this contest.
Todd Pletcher's Blofeld tends to blow hot and cold nowadays, his most recent effort being a well-beaten seventh behind Frosted in the Metropolitan Mile at Belmont. However, his previous outings when fourth to Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up Effinex, and a win in the Gulfstream Park Handicap give him strong claims. Even at his best, though, Blofeld isn't as good as Bradester, and Eddie Kenneally's six-year-old looks a solid bet to further stretch his 2016 undefeated run.
Back Bradester in the Monmouth Cup (Monmouth 20:29, Sunday)
Back American Freedom in the Betfair.com Haskell (Monmouth 22:47, Sunday)