In a climactic finish fought out by Kentucky Derby (G1) alumni, Brad Grady’s Girvin got up on the wire to deny McCraken and Practical Joke in Sunday’s $1,010,000 Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park.

The Haskell is a “Win and You’re In” for the November 4 Breeders’ Cup Classic (G1) at Del Mar, so Girvin now has an automatic berth into the championship event versus older horses.

Before then, though, he’s advertised himself as a major contender for the August 26 Travers (G1) at Saratoga, and a chance to take control of a three-year-old division that’s been in flux all season.

Girvin had topped the 2017 Kentucky Derby points leaderboard, amassing 150 points through victories in the Risen Star (G2) and Louisiana Derby (G2), but foot problems in the build-up to the May 6 “Run for the Roses” interrupted his training. Although able to make the race, he didn’t do himself justice when 13th at Churchill Downs – his only time ever out of the top two.

Trainer Joe Sharp gave Girvin time to regroup and pointed to the June 24 Ohio Derby (G3) at ThistleDown, where he was just nailed by Irap. That result looked even better after Irap came back to run away with the Indiana Derby (G2). In the interim, Girvin was thriving, sending all the right signals that he’d move forward in the Haskell.

Ridden for the first time by Robby Albarado, the 9-1 shot was allowed to settle in last of the seven-horse field as a contested pace unfolded up front. Hitherto unbeaten 9-5 favorite Timeline, who developed too late to try the Derby trail, got off a beat slow, then moved up to head early leader Battle of Midway (the third-placer in the Kentucky Derby).

Timeline and Battle of Midway proceeded to duel each other into submission. Irish War Cry, perched just outside them in third, launched his bid on the far turn, but he was already being outmoved.

McCraken was uncorking a bold, circling rally from farther back, and surged past Irish War Cry in upper stretch. But just when McCraken appeared to have made the winning move, Girvin and Practical Joke were gaining fast inside the final furlong.

Nearing the wire, although McCraken was holding Practical Joke, Girvin had all of the momentum and thrust his nose in front. The winner completed 1 1/8 miles on the fast track in 1:48.35 and returned $20.40 (for a $2 win bet).

In an ironic twist, McCraken’s jockey, Brian Hernandez Jr., was originally the regular rider for Girvin through the first four starts of his career at Fair Grounds. But Derby time forces tough choices, and Hernandez decided to stick with his other contender, McCraken.

The top three pulled 4 3/4 lengths clear of Irish War Cry. Next came Timeline, Battle of Midway, and Hence.

Girvin’s record now stands at 7-4-2-0, and he’s become a millionaire with earnings of $1,574,400.

For details on his early life, check out the Girvin edition of “Tales from the Crib.”

Photos courtesy of Bill Denver/Equi-Photo