Geaux Rocket Ride repels Kentucky Derby winner Mage in Haskell

Sep 21, 2023 Kellie Reilly/

Geaux Rocket Ride outkicked Mage in the Haskell (Photo by Nikki Sherman/Equi-Photo)

The theme of the 2023 Triple Crown – fresh faces stepping up on the big stage – continued into the first major race in the second half of the season, Saturday’s $1,017,500 Haskell (G1) at Monmouth Park.

Pin Oak Stud’s Geaux Rocket Ride, making his Grade 1 debut, repelled Kentucky Derby (G1) winner Mage to join the elite tier of three-year-olds vying for divisional leadership. In the process, Geaux Rocket Ride earned a fees-paid berth in the Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1), with the Haskell being a “Win and You’re In.”

Bettors expected a Grade 1 newcomer to win the Haskell, but not Geaux Rocket Ride, who went off at odds of 12.70-1. Hitherto unbeaten Arabian Knight brought the flashiest profile as the 11-10 favorite, only to tire to third after an early pace battle.

Mage, who was just confirmed for the Haskell earlier in the week, ranked as the 4.30-1 second choice. Freshened after his third in the Preakness (G1), the Gustavo Delgado trainee has had the Aug. 26 Travers (G1) as his main summer goal. Connections decided to run him here as a tune-up, and the fact that he wasn’t fully primed may have made the difference.

In contrast, Geaux Rocket Ride was methodically prepared for the Haskell by Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella. On the Kentucky Derby trail at Santa Anita earlier this year, he was a promising second in his stakes and two-turn debut in the March 4 San Felipe (G2). Geaux Rocket Ride was projected to move forward next time in the Santa Anita Derby (G1), but wound up scratching due to an ill-timed fever.

Missing his chance to make the first Saturday in May, Geaux Rocket Ride regrouped and pointed for the June 4 Affirmed S. over the same track and 1 1/16-mile trip as the San Felipe. The son of Candy Ride rolled from just off the pace as the 1-2 favorite, setting himself up for his first start away from home in the Haskell.

Hall of Fame rider Mike Smith picked up the mount and engineered the right trip. Geaux Rocket Ride relaxed beautifully into a stalking position, steered away from his rail post into a better spot on the outside.

Arabian Knight showed his trademark speed, but the longest shot on the board, the 61-1 Awesome Strong, proved a complicating factor by vying with the favorite. Although Arabian Knight eventually put his gadfly away, he burned up extra energy. That was costly for the inexperienced colt, especially considering that he was coming off a six-month layoff.

Geaux Rocket Ride made a good-looking move to tackle Arabian Knight on the far turn. In hot pursuit, however, was Mage, and the Derby star looked poised to drive past them at the top of the lane. Yet Geaux Rocket Ride had plenty left, while Mage did not sustain his bid. Geaux Rocket Ride drew 1 3/4 lengths clear in a final time of 1:49.52 for 1 1/8 miles.

Mage had two lengths to spare over Arabian Knight, who deserves credit for persevering in third. Extra Anejo, a onetime Derby hopeful likewise lacking experience, closed for fourth. Classic veteran Tapit Trice didn’t factor in fifth. Howgreatisnate, the troubled Salute the Stars, and Awesome Strong rounded out the order under the wire.

Geaux Rocket Ride’s scorecard stands at 4-3-1-0, $780,200. Bred by OXO Equine in Kentucky and purchased for $350,000 as a yearling at Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July, the bay is out of the Uncle Mo mare Beyond Grace.

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