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Posted 2023-07-23 04:19:19  
Haskell win 23 years in waiting for Mandella with Geaux Rocket Ride

Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella had been waiting 23 long years to return to the Grade 1, $1 million TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park, and boy, did it pay off on Saturday! Geaux Rocket Ride, a magnificent 3-year-old son of Candy Ride (ARG), made the wait worthwhile with a sensational 1¾-length victory over none other than the Kentucky Derby winner, Mage.

For Mandella, who had previously won the Haskell in 2000 with Dixie Union, this triumphant return was a dream come true. The Southern California-based trainer knew he had the right horse at the right time for the race, and Geaux Rocket Ride did not disappoint.

A whopping crowd of 35,286, setting a Haskell day record, witnessed history in the making as Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith added another milestone to his illustrious career. With this victory, Smith secured his record-breaking fourth Haskell win, having previously conquered the race with Authentic in 2020, Coronado's Quest in 1998, and Holy Bull in 1994.

Smith showcased his brilliance in the saddle, expertly guiding Geaux Rocket Ride to victory. The action-packed race saw Geaux Rocket Ride skillfully rated behind early speed set by a 61-1 longshot, Awesome Strong. The Bob Baffert-trained Arabian Knight, the even-money favorite, then took the lead.

As the race unfolded, Smith made his move, skillfully positioning Geaux Rocket Ride off the rail going into the clubhouse turn. He stalked the pacesetters and surged forward, engaging in a fierce battle with Arabian Knight.

But Geaux Rocket Ride was determined to claim victory, and the 1 1/8 miles on a fast track seemed tailor-made for this talented colt. Mage tried to close in on the upper stretch, but Geaux Rocket Ride repelled the challenge with grit and determination. With Smith's strong urging, Geaux Rocket Ride pulled ahead, leaving Mage two lengths behind.

Smith shared his thoughts on the race, "When Arabian Knight went out to the front, I was very happy that the two horse (Awesome Strong) went out there with him. He wasn't getting away with anything easy and on his own, which I wasn't going to let happen if someone else didn't do it."

The well-planned strategy between Mandella and Smith played out to perfection, as Geaux Rocket Ride settled beautifully in his last race and showed remarkable natural speed.

Mandella exuded confidence in his horse, saying, "We talked about it, and the horse has good natural speed, and we realized that Baffert's horse (Arabian Knight) on the outside was fast and planning to go to the lead, most likely. We thought we'd just let him run out of there a little bit, and he settled so nicely in his last race that we'd let that happen unless everybody took back. They didn't take back. We did."

Mage's trainer, Gustavo Delgado, Sr., acknowledged the race was good for his horse after a two-month break. Jimmy Barnes, long-time top assistant to Baffert, felt the long layoff might have caught up with Arabian Knight.

Geaux Rocket Ride's victory was a momentous occasion for Pin Oak Stud, owned by Dana and Jim Bernhard of Baton Rouge, La. The Bernhards acquired the renowned racing and breeding operation, previously owned by the Abercrombie Family since the 1950s, after Mrs. Josephine Abercrombie passed away last year.

The colt, purchased as a yearling at $350,000, was the first horse bought by the new owners, and it turned out to be an exceptional birthday present from her husband.

With the $1 million purse and the prestigious Grade 1 status earned, Geaux Rocket Ride now has a guaranteed spot in the starting gate for the $6 million Breeders' Cup Classic at Santa Anita in November, thanks to the Breeders' Cup Challenge Series. According to Smith, the 1¼-mile distance of the Classic should be no problem for this promising colt, who showcased his stamina and determination in the Haskell.

The Haskell Stakes was a spectacular display of talent, excitement, and triumph, and Geaux Rocket Ride proved he is a force to be reckoned with on the racing stage.

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