For the better part of 50 years, Al Gold traveled from his New Jersey home to Monmouth Park countless times.
He saw more editions of the TVG.com Haskell Invitational Stakes (G1) in the course of his 66 years on this earth than he can remember.
So, when he bought his first horse about 15 years ago, he had some wild dreams about winning the Haskell, but realized, from all his years of gambling, that dreams and reality do not often converge.
Yet they did July 23.
Cyberknife —a son of Gun Runner named for a non-invasive treatment that rid Gold’s body of prostate cancer—scripted a new chapter in Gold’s relationship with Monmouth when he moved up strongly along the rail in the stretch to win the $1,017,500 Haskell. Not only did he win the marquee race for 3-year-olds at the track Gold calls his home away from home, but he did so while surging to a head victory in a track-record time of 1:46.24 for 1 1/8 miles over the Bob Baffert-trained Taiba .
“I have a lot of great memories here, and this is the best horse I’ve ever had. It’s his second grade 1,” said Gold, who races under the banner of Gold Square and now lives in Florida and Saratoga Springs, N.Y. “It’s a special feeling. There are no words to describe it.”
With 3-5 favorite Jack Christopher weakening in the final furlong and finishing third, the back-to-back Haskell victories for trainer Brad Cox and jockey Florent Geroux (who won a year ago via disqualification with Mandaloun ) added a little more confusion to a 3-year-old division that has an 80-1 Kentucky Derby Presented by Woodford Reserve (G1) winner in Rich Strike , a Preakness Stakes (G1) winner in Early Voting who will run July 30 in the Jim Dandy Stakes (G2), and a Belmont Stakes Presented by NYRA Bets (G1) winner in Mo Donegal who is sidelined and will miss the Breeders’ Cup due to bone bruising.
Now you can add Cyberknife to that mix of title contenders. Bred by Ken and Sarah Ramsey out of the Flower Alley mare Awesome Flower , he won the Arkansas Derby (G1) to give Gold his initial grade 1 win as an owner. Up next is a van ride to Saratoga Race Course, where the chestnut colt is expected to run in the Aug. 27 Runhappy Travers Stakes (G1), which promises to have a huge say in who will be crowned the champion 3-year-old male.
Cyberknife threw his name into the mix for divisional championship honors with his Haskell score
“He has a very nice race record, and if he continues to move forward, he’ll be a contender for champion 3-year-old,” Cox said about the colt, who was 18th in the Kentucky Derby but won the Matt Winn Stakes (G3) in his last start. “He has some work to do, but hopefully he’ll be a horse that has his name in the hat at the end of the year. I’ll think he can get the mile-and-a-quarter (the Travers distance).”
The late summer and fall classics will hold a special meaning for Cyberknife as he stands to collect a $1 million bonus from BetMakers if he can add a victory in both the Travers and the Nov. 5 Longines Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Keeneland. The winner of five of nine starts with earnings of $1,596,520 secured a free spot in the Classic through Saturday’s win in a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” stakes.
Jack Christopher and his trainer Chad Brown were the centers of attention as the eight starters entered the gate. Brown had already matched Todd Pletcher’s feat on the 2016 Haskell card with five wins and was bidding for a sixth and a sweep of Monmouth’s five graded stakes with an undefeated 3-5 shot.
Owned by Jim Bakke, Gerald Isbister, Peter Brant, and Coolmore Stud, Jack Christopher has the pedigree of a miler as a son of Munnings , and the two-time grade 1 winner was making his two-turn debut against three other top-level winners.
Hard held after a half-mile in :46.96, Jack Christopher was second by a length behind 56-1 shot Benevengo over a scorched racetrack that saw Spend a Buck’s 37-year-old track record shattered by Highly Motivated four races earlier when he won the Monmouth Cup Stakes (G3) in 1:46.53 four races earlier.
Midway on the turn, after six furlongs in 1:09.93, Jack Christopher and Jose Ortiz made their move and grabbed a short lead over Howling Time at the quarter pole. Yet behind them, both Cyberknife and Zedan Racing Stables’ Runhappy Santa Anita Derby (G1) winner Taiba were revving up, with Cyberknife in need of running room.
As Howling Time dropped back to fourth, Cyberknife moved alongside Jack Christopher from the inside and Taiba from the outside in midstretch. As the favorite could not keep pace in the final furlong, the battle boiled down to Cyberknife and Taiba straining to reach the wire first, with Cyberknife ($17.60) getting the nod as the 7-1 fourth choice.
“I had a lot of confidence in this horse,” Geroux said. “I had a lot of horse underneath me. He has a turn of foot like a turf horse on dirt.”
Taiba, ridden by Mike Smith, made his first start since finishing 12th in the Kentucky Derby and was reunited with Baffert, who returned to his stable earlier this month after serving a 90-day suspension for Medina Spirit’s drug violation and disqualification in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.
“He’s still learning,” Smith said about the son of Gun Runner, who made his fourth career start Saturday. “I had him inside, and I couldn’t get him running down there for nothing, so I had to swing him outside, and then he ran a great race. I thought I was going to win.”
If Taiba moves on to the Travers, he will need a different trainer as Baffert is suspended from racing at New York Racing Association tracks until January.
“He made a gallant effort, that’s for sure,” said assistant trainer Jim Barnes, who saddled Taiba.
For Jack Christopher, who was two lengths behind Taiba and had never raced beyond a mile until Saturday, the Aug. 27 seven-furlong H. Allen Jerkens Memorial (G1) at Saratoga looms as the next target.
“I felt very, very good turning for home,” Brown said after his 3-year-old’s first loss in five starts. “I thought it was a beautiful trip, but at the end of the day, I thought he (pushed) fair fractions. It’s pretty simple we have to cut him back. Hats off to the winner. He looked the part of a real threat the entire race.”
On a day when a crowd of 22,138 wagered $1,303,642 on-track, with an all-sources handle of $19,896,954 (up from an all-sources handle of $15,243,585 in 2021), it was a great day for Monmouth and a darn good one for Brown, despite the setback in the Haskell. His five wins, including a grade 1, were in races with a combined purse of $1,660,000.
“It was a great day, and Monmouth should be applauded for putting on such a great day of racing,” Brown said. “We came down here with some of our best horses because they offered really good prize money in logical races that made sense at this time of year. Management could not have been more accommodating. I’m really happy to come back home to where it started for me. I put in for my trainer’s license here at Monmouth after the 2007 Breeders’ Cup.”
Trainer Brad Cox holds up the Haskell trophy with Jockey Florent Geroux (left) and owner Al Gold and wife Hilary (right)
Video: TVG.com Haskell S. (G1)