OCEANPORT, N.J. — When Joe Sharp talked up his horse last week, not many people listened. Sharp had never won a Grade I, and Girvin appeared to be in deep in Sunday’s $1-million Haskell. When the 9-1 shot was last, nine lengths behind, on Monmouth Park’s backstretch, nobody regretted ignoring him.
When McCraken swept four-wide midway on the far turn and drew clear inside the eighth pole, the race appeared over. Then Girvin and Practical Joke surged, and suddenly the $600,000 winner’s share was in play. Girvin, outside of Practical Joke, edged clear of him before nailing McCraken at the wire.
The margin was a long nose, and Robby Albarado had measured it perfectly.
“I was just biding my time,’’ said Albarado, who had never ridden Girvin. “He worked out really well, so I had the confidence he could get out and run him down. And he did. He just kept coming and coming. He’s really coming into his own right now.”
Sharp was confident before the race, but it was nervous time in deep stretch for him and his wife, former jockey Rosie Napravnik. “At the eighth pole, it looked like he had a shot to win,” Sharp said, “and Robby got him there.”
The hard-luck losers were McCraken’s rider, Brian Hernandez Jr., and trainer, Ian Wilkes. “Turning for home, he really sprinted away, and I thought he was the winner,” Hernandez said. “I didn’t see Girvin and Robby coming until the wire. We just got caught.”
Girvin’s rally was aided by a speed duel between Timeline, the previously undefeated 9-5 favorite, and early pacesetter Battle of Midway, who faded to fifth and sixth, respectively. Belmont Stakes runner-up Irish War Cry was sitting third, in a perfect spot, after 6 furlongs in a moderate 1:11.25. Irish War Cry moved into second at the eighth pole before backing up to fourth. Hence was last of seven.
Bad luck had plagued Girvin since he won the Louisiana Derby on April 1. A hoof injury cropped up before the Kentucky Derby, in which he was a rough-trip 13th after missing a workout. He didn’t run again until June 24, when Irap nosed him out in the Ohio Derby. Except for the first Saturday in May, Girvin hadn’t been worse than second, and Sharp never lost faith.
“From his effort in the Ohio Derby, we thought he deserved a shot in the Haskell,” the 32-year-old Sharp said. “He was such a confident horse today.”
Girvin paid $20.40 for his fourth win in seven starts after running 1 1⁄8 miles in 1:48.35. He has earned $1,574,400 for Brad Grady, a rancher and businessman who named him for the tiny Texas town where he grew up.
The Haskell further scrambled the 3-year-old picture the day after Good Samaritan upset Derby winner Always Dreaming and Preakness hero Cloud Computing in Saratoga’s Jim Dandy. After a spring in which a different horse won each classic, the pecking order continues to change constantly. Next stop is the 1 1⁄4-mile Travers on Aug. 26 at Saratoga.
“Girvin has done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Sharp said. “The question is can he get a mile and a quarter. We’ll see how he comes out of this, but the timing for the Travers is good. There is no telling where he’ll end up.”
Which is true for all of these 3-year-olds.