The 43rd Haskell Invitational will give the winner a leg up in the quest for top 3-year-old honors in 2010. It will pit winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, plus the Belmont runner-up, in a very competitive race.
Preakness heroine Rachel Alexandra and Belmont winner Summer Bird clashed in last year’s Monmouth Park showcase race and the filly cruised to a six-length victory. It broke a 4-4 tie between Preakness-Belmont combatants since the inaugural in ’68.
In addition, it was the 11th time that the 1 1/8-mile contest was captured by the winner of a Triple Crown event.
Meanwhile, Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird opted for the West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Park and finished third. This year the odd Triple Crown event winner out is Drosselmeyer, surprise victor in the Belmont that’s been given a two-month rest for a minor ankle problem.
Likely starters for the $1 million Grade 1 on Aug. 1 include a couple of runners that hit the board in several Triple Crown races: First Dude, second in the Preakness and third in the Belmont, and Ice Box, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby before finishing eighth in the Belmont.
Trainer Nick Zito said Ice Box had an excuse for his poor performance last month. The son of Pulpit displaced his palate after getting worked up before the race. “Monmouth’s track is playing (toward) closers, and Ice Box comes from behind.” He did exactly that capturing the Florida Derby at Gulfstream in March.
In the ’87 Haskell, Derby-Preakness winner Alysheba hooked up again with Bet Twice, who had denied him the Triple Crown by taking the Belmont. The son of Alydar came up short again, a neck behind Bet Twice.
In ’85, Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck and Belmont champ Crème Fraiche clashed, but were upset by Skip Trial. Not only did the son of Bailjumper return the biggest win payoff in Haskell history, $73, he set the current track record for 1 1/8 miles – 1:46 4/5. Spend a Buck ran second, followed by Crème Fraiche.
On July 31, the $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga is attracting fairly competitive sophomores like Fly Down, runner-up in the Belmont. “The turns are pretty sharp,” said his conditioner, Zito. “(He’d) be better off; he’s a longer horse, a bigger horse.”
An emerging star at the start of the so-called “second season” for sophomores is Pegasus winner Afleet Express. The son of Afleet Alex recorded a breakout triumph in May capturing a Belmont allowance contest at seven furlongs by 7 ¾ lengths.
In addition, Todd Pletcher, trainer of Super Saver, will send out Aikenite, off the board in the Preakness. Another likely starter in the 47th running of the 1 1/8-mile race is A Little Warm, winner of an overnight allowance contest at Delaware Park last month.