by Teresa Genaro
Back in 2008, jockey Rajiv Maragh got his first Grade 1 win in the Ashland Stakes at Keeneland, riding Little Belle for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin.
A lot has happened for both Maragh and McLaughlin in the last 11 years, but until Saturday’s Gotham Stakes (G3) at Aqueduct, they didn’t get back to the winner’s circle together. Thanks to Haikal, that’s no longer the case.
After finishing second by a neck in his debut last November at Aqueduct under Jose Ortiz, Shadwell Stables’ Haikal is now undefeated in three starts with Maragh, all at Aqueduct.
Running so far back in the early going that he might as well have been on a runway at JFK Airport across the Belt Parkway, Haikal and Maragh disappeared off the screen as Knicks Go and Bob Baffert-invader Much Better battled it out through fractions of :22.36 and :44.42. Re-appearing along the rail coming into the far turn, Haikal still had a lot of work to do, as even-money favorite Instagrand, who like Much Better shipped in from California; Much Better; and Hopeful Stakes (G1) winner Mind Control ran three across the track approaching the eighth-pole.
Guiding the bay colt into the clear, five-wide, Maragh let Haikal loose, unleashing a rousing late run that left the leaders in his wake, to win by a length, the largest margin of victory in his short career.
“He was coming at them and I felt like he was full of run,” Maragh said. “I thought we had them measured and I hoped he’d continue his run and not ease up.”
Mind Control was second, with Instagrand and Much Better completing the superfecta.
Haikal earned 50 Kentucky Derby points for the win, vaulting him to #3 on the Kentucky Derby leaderboard with 50 total points. Mind Control earned 20 for a total of 30, Instagrand garnered 10 and Much Better five, for a total of seven.
The win is Maragh’s first in a graded contest since the 2017 Ballerina (G1) at Saratoga on By the Moon.
A half-brother to Grade 1 winner Takaful, Shadwell homebred Haikal is by Daaher and out of the Distorted Humor mare Sablah.
“In the last race we were forced to go on the inside,” Maragh said. “Today, we got open to get in clear space in the hope he’d show his kick.”
Though his sire was more of a miler, winning the 2007 Cigar Mile Handicap (G1), Maragh is confident of Haikal’s ability to go farther.
“With his physical stature, his mindset, and his strong finish, I think he’d excel at longer distances,” the reinsman asserted.
McLaughlin wasn’t at Aqueduct, represented by his assistant Joe Lee, but he was very much on Maragh’s mind.
“I started riding for him many years ago, and we became very good friends,” the jockey said. “He’s like a father figure to me, and when I need life advice, he’s one of a handful of people I go to. That makes winning races like this extra special.”
“It’s so exciting,” he continued. “In the fall, the better three-year-olds I rode went to Florida, and it’s hard to fill those voids here in the winter. It’s just a blessing that this horse fell in the right place for me.”