Scandal-scarred trainer Bob Baffert has nominated two horses to Monmouth Park’s most prestigious race, the $1 million Haskell Stakes, later this month, the Jersey Shore track announced Thursday.
Santa Anita Derby winner Taiba, who was previously trained by Baffert’s former assistant Tim Yakteen, and Saudi Derby winner Pinehurst were among the 19 nominees to the July 23 contest, the biggest race for three-year-olds since June’s Belmont Stakes.
They could face some of the best three-year-olds in training who were also nominated to the Haskell, including Preakness Stakes winner Early Voting; Arkansas Derby and Matt Winn Stakes champion Cyberknife; Woody Stephens Stakes winner Jack Christopher; Florida Derby champion White Abarrio; Blue Grass Stakes winner Zandon; and TVG Pegasus Stakes winner Home Brew.
Once the most prestigious trainer in American thoroughbred racing, Baffert has been at the center of a major doping scandal over the past year after one of his horses, Medina Spirit, captured the 2021 Kentucky Derby and tested positive a week later for a banned substance.
A further investigation led to Medina Spirit’s disqualification as Derby winner back in February, and Churchill Downs further barred Baffert from entering his horses for two years; the trainer is suing to have that suspension overturned.
Other racing circuits followed suit. Santa Anita Park, Baffert’s home track, also suspended him for 90 days, and the New York Racing Association — which operates Aqueduct, Belmont Park and Saratoga Race Course — barred him from entering horses at its tracks through next January.
But the two-time Triple Crown-winning trainer had his Santa Anita suspension lifted on July 3, enabling Baffert to resume his training duties and enter horses at Monmouth Park.
“I’m just trying to get caught up,” Baffert told the Daily Racing Form on July 3, after the end of the training session at Santa Anita. “It feels like the first day of school.”
Being nominated to a stakes race doesn’t necessarily mean that a horse will run in it. Final decisions on which horses will enter the Haskell starting gate will be made days prior to the race, ahead of the post position draw.
Taiba had been in Baffert’s barn prior to the Santa Anita Derby, but was transferred to Yakteen to give his owners a chance at winning the Kentucky Derby prep race being eligible to run for the roses that May. In just his second career start, Taiba pulled off an authoritative victory for Yakteen and his connections at Santa Anita, but disappointed in the Kentucky Derby with a 12th place finish.
Still, Taiba is easily the better of the two Baffert nominees for the Haskell. While Pinehurst exceeded expectations with his Saudi Derby win back in February, he flopped the following month in the UAE Derby, unable to finish the race in Dubai.
Pinehurst was previously trained by Sean McCarthy before his connections moved him back to the Baffert barn.
Baffert has previously won the Haskell Stakes nine times, most recently with Authentic in 2020 — who eventually went on to win that September’s Kentucky Derby and the November Breeders’ Cup Classic in the pandemic-impacted racing season.
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The Haskell Stakes is a Breeders’ Cup “Win-and-You’re-In” qualifying race, with the winner automatically receiving a berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic this November at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, KY.
Visit monmouthpark.com for more information on the Haskell Stakes.