ELMONT, NEW YORK - JUNE 05: Essential Quality with Luis Saez up wins the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes as Hot Rod Charlie with Flavien Prat up finishes second at Belmont Park on June 05, 2021 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Sarah Stier/Getty Images

With the Triple Crown behind us and the Breeders’ Cup on the horizon, Saturday’s Haskell Stakes is one of the premier races this time of year.

Three-year-olds looking to bolster their Horse of the Year resumes while competing for big honors have a great opportunity at Monmouth Park in New Jersey. The horses will be running for a $1 million purse for their connections in an important lead-up race to the Breeders’ Cup.

Throughout the years, some of the biggest names in horse racing have won the Haskell. Authentic, 2020’s Horse of the Year, was the winner last year. While Rachel Alexandra and American Pharoah also used Haskell wins to boost their resumes.

This year’s field features seven horses and includes multiple Triple Crown runners and a newcomer to the Grade I stakes scene in Following Sea. The Todd Pletcher-trained colt is among the favorites after back-to-back performances with triple-digit speed figures.

Still, the Haskell has historically belonged to those who have fared well in the Triple Crown races, so he has his work cut out for him. Here’s a look at the complete field with post positions, odds and three picks for the race.

Post Positions and Odds

1. Following Sea 3-1

2. Antigravity 30-1

3. Mandaloun 2-1

4. Hot Rod Charlie 6-5

5. Pickin’ Time 20-1

6. Midnight Bourbon 9-2

7. Basso 30-1

Odds via Horse Racing Nation.

Show: Following Sea

The hype for Following Sea has some merit. He’s shown the top-end speed befitting his pedigree. His sire, Runhappy, was a sprinter who won multiple Grade I stakes races, and Following Sea won his most recent race by 6½ lengths.

There are two concerns when it comes to picking the colt to win, though.

First, this will be a major step up in competition. His latest win came in a four-horse field with no graded stakes winners. Now he’s jumping into a seven-horse field against quality competition that has placed in American Classics.

The second concern is the distance. He’s only ever run 6½ furlongs in one race. So backing Following Sea to win means believing that his speed will hold up over a distance he’s never run against better horses than he’s seen before.

He will likely be the early leader, but it will be shocking if he holds off the contenders down the stretch.

Place: Hot Rod Charlie

ELMONT, NEW YORK - JUNE 05:  Essential Quality with Luis Saez up wins the 153rd running of the Belmont Stakes as Hot Rod Charlie with Flavien Prat up finishes second  at Belmont Park on June 05, 2021 in Elmont, New York. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Al Bello/Getty Images

Success in the American Classics is typically a harbinger of good things at Monmouth. Hot Rod Charlie boasts one of the best resumes in the field in that regard.

The Belmont Stakes runner-up and third-place finisher at the Kentucky Derby has been remarkably consistent as a three-year-old, hitting the board in all four of his starts.

A Grade I Stakes victory has been elusive, though. The top race he’s won was March’s Grade II Louisiana Derby. He’s still looking to win a big one and this is probably his best opportunity.

Still, his penchant for running with the pace-setter could be detrimental here. If he follows Following Sea’s early pace, he could expend too much energy and not have enough in the tank to hold off a closer who is coming off a strong performance at Monmouth.

Win: Mandaloun

When all the dust settles on Medina Spirit’s failed drug test from the Kentucky Derby, Mandaloun might just be considered the winner of the Run for the Roses.

Mandaloun is one of the few horses who has some familiarity with the track at Monmouth. After his second-place finish at the Derby, he sat out the Belmont and Preakness before winning the Pegasus Stakes at the track.

In that win, Mandaloun stalked the pace before making a push down the stretch and overtaking the field. Trainer Brad Cox believes we will see a similar performance from the closer.

“I think it sets up nicely for us. What he did in the prep race is what he will probably do here, coming a little bit off it,” he told Bob Ehalt of BloodHorse before acknowledging the pace will be faster in this race.

That’s a good running style, with Following Sea looking to set an early pace that Hot Rod Charlie will follow. It’s setting up to be a great finish, and Mandaloun could have what it takes to overtake the favorite.

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