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Invitation Only

Posted by Brian Mulligan on 7/28/2010 12:46:43 PM

The Haskell Invitational, which will be renewed at Monmouth Park on August 1, has always held a special place in my heart since I used to watch steeplechase racing on the grounds of who the race was named for, Amory L. Haskell.

Back in those days an annual trek to the steeplechaser on the Middletown property was both an eye opener and an education. Being impressionable, the site of seeing people milling around drinking champagne, bookies meandering through the crowd and one limousine with a chandelier, the initial experience was unforgettable.

The $1 million 9-furlong fray has been won by some players over the years. I bet on the 1971 winner West Coast Scout and for a 19-year-old punk, the $200 wager was huge.

Coastal won the battle 8 years later, Holy Bull heard the roar in 1994 as did Kentucky Derby winner War Emblem in 2002, opening the door for Derby winner Big Brown 2 years ago.

Last year, Rachael Alexander dominated the event on her way to Horse of the Year honors.

This season, the Haskell will be exceptionally strong, as it is likely to attract the horses that ran one-two in both the Kentucky Derby (Super Saver and Ice Box) and Preakness Stakes (Lookin at Lucky and First Dude). 

Lookin at Lucky, who has not raced since the Preakness, tuned up for the Haskell with a 1:13.60 work at Del Mar and this is what his trainer, Bob Baffert, had to say, Baffert: “He went well, but the track was a little dead. It was pretty deep coming down the stretch.”

Baffert is no stranger to the waters around Monmouth as he is seeking his fourth Haskell success having saddled winners Point Given, War Emblem and Roman Ruler for scores in the shore’s showcase extravaganza.

First Dude followed his Preakness second with a super third beaten a length in the Belmont Stakes. He brings blazing speed but doesn’t absolutely need the lead to win.

Super Saver will be trying to make amends for his flop in the Preakness in which he was finished after three quarters of a mile. He is also out to prove his Derby success was no fluke.

Nick Zito watched with glee as his student Ice Box tuned up for the race working in company with Cool Coal Man. Ice Box started about a length and a half behind Coal Man and finished about 2 lengths in front. Coal Man has won multiple stakes in his career, the last with a 100 Beyer at the shore on June 12. Zito explained his thinking behind the start for Ice Box.

Zito: “ I’m very happy, that was Cool Coal Man and he’s no slouch. I feel that's the best way to go. Monmouth's track is playing [toward] closers, and Ice Box comes from behind.”

Ice Box will be facing his archrival Super Saver, who finished in front of him in the Kentucky Derby. Saver has to prove he can star on a glib track.

Afleet Again will get the acid test in the Haskell but he is the only horse in the field that has been using Monmouth as his home base. His trainer Butch Reid feels his horse can deliver a top performance in the Haskell if the pace scenario is right. 

Reid: “He’s been running well at Monmouth. But in both of those stakes, the pace was way too slow for him to close like I know he can. In both races, they went the half in :49 and change and the six furlongs in 1:14 or so. If he gets a good pace in the Haskell, and I think he will, I think he’ll run his best race.” 

The Long Branch Stakes winner Trappe Shot is talented but lightly raced. Got to expect his connections to instruct the rider to put him on the lead and then try to tow-rope the field. The blood is there for this guy to be any kind as kin Miss Shop was a Grade 1 winner and banked over $1.1 million.

After a solid :48 and change drill Monday, Shot’s trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was very pleased. The trainer: “He worked great, we’re happy. We’re ready to step up and try them. We feel we have a top horse.”

McLaughlin knows what to do with a good horse as he proved taking the Belmont Stakes, Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Turf and the BC Classic.

Uptowncharlybrow will be a price. He has lost his last 4 starts and was taken down in his last race.

As it unfolds, expect First Dude to be sent along with Trappe Shot getting a nice 2-hole trip and Lookin at Lucky in a great stalking position. At the top of the lane the hometown flavor will kick in for Trappe Shot and he’ll take a slim lead at the 16th pole when Super Saver and Ice Box start to raise their competitive heads.

At the wire, Trappe Shot will falter and be overtaken by Ice Box, with Lookin at Lucky completing the exacta.

Good luck and cash some tickets.



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