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Bob Baffert After Record Third Straight Victory Sunday in $1 Million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park

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OCEANPORT, N.J. – The road to this year’s 3-year-old championship runs through Monmouth Park on Sunday when a field of six lines up for the 45th running of the $1 million Haskell Invitational (Grade 1), the signature event of Monmouth’s summer season.

            The Haskell, which has produced seven divisional champions in the last 11 years, plus a Horse of the Year in 2009 winner Rachel Alexandra, has drawn the leading 3-year-olds still in training, topped by Paynter, beaten just a neck in the Belmont Stakes; Dullahan, third behind I’ll Have Another in the Kentucky Derby, and Gemologist, winner of the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in April.

            Trainer Bob Baffert, who scored a record fifth Haskell victory last year with Coil, goes for his sixth Haskell win, and an unprecedented three in a row, with Paynter, who has been made the solid 3-2 favorite on the morning line.

            The mile and an eighth Haskell heads a card of 14 races on Sunday, and is the richest of six stakes events to be run during the afternoon. Other graded events on the card are the $200,000 Molly Pitcher (Grade 2) for fillies and mares, which goes as the 11th race; the $150,000 Taylor Made Matchmaker (Grade 3) for fillies and mares on turf, set as the 10th race, and the $150,000 Oceanport (Grade 3), for older horses on turf, which will be the 12th race.

            Post time for the Haskell, which goes as the 13th race, is set at 6:17 p.m. The race will be aired as part of the full-card television coverage by the TVG network.

            Monmouth’s parking areas will open at 9 a.m., with admission gates opening at 10 a.m. The first race will go off at 12 noon. Admission to Monmouth on Haskell Day will be $5 for the grandstand and $8 for the clubhouse, with seniors (55 and older) admitted to the grandstand for $3 and the clubhouse for $5. Children 12 and under are free.

            All paid admissions will receive a free 2012 Haskell cap while supplies last.

            In addition, all military personnel, in uniform or with military ID, will be admitted free and will receive a free cap.

            The day’s wagering program will include two special wagers with guaranteed pools. There will be a 50-cent Pick 4 on races 10-13 (all stakes) with a guaranteed pool of $250,000, and there will be a 50-cent Pick 5 on races 6-10 with a guaranteed pool of $100,000.

            The first stakes event on the card is the $100,000 Majestic Light, which goes as the seventh race. The other stakes event to be decided is the $100,000 Teddy Drone (ninth race).

            The Molly Pitcher, one of the most famous events on the Monmouth schedule, will have its 67th running on Sunday. The mile and a sixteenth event drew a field of nine, including Absinthe Minded, who ran third in last year’s Molly Pitcher.

The Taylor Made Matchmaker, a unique event which offers stallion seasons to the first three finishers in addition to the purse, will be having its 46th running. The nine-furlong turf test drew eight fillies and mares.

The Oceanport, being run for the 66th time, attracted a field of eight, including Get Serious, winner of the 2010 edition.

Zayat Stables’ Paynter, a lightly raced colt by Awesome Again, gets a new rider for the Haskell in Rafael Bejarano as he goes from Post 3 in the Haskell field of six. The Belmont Stakes was just his fifth career start and he nearly stole the mile and a half test, losing by a neck to Union Rags in the shadow of the wire.

Trainer Baffert has won the last two runnings of the Haskell (Coil last year and Lookin At Lucky in 2010), and now has a total of five, more than any other trainer. He had his first Haskell score with Point Given in 2001, and followed with War Emblem in 2002. He saddled Roman Ruler to win the 2005 running.

Donegal Racing’s Dullahan, trained by Dale Romans, who had Shackleford finish second to Coil in last year’s Haskell, is coming off a losing effort in the Belmont, where he went off the 5-2 favorite.

Prior to that race, he won the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes and then was third in the Kentucky Derby.

Dullahan gets regular rider Kent Desormeaux back aboard for the Haskell as he goes from Post 2.

Gemologist is owned by WinStar Farm and trained by Todd Pletcher, a combo that won back-to-back runnings of the Haskell in 2006 with Bluegrass Cat and 2007 with Any Given Saturday. The colt by Tiznow was unbeaten in five starts heading into the Kentucky Derby, but injured a foot during the running of that race and finished far back.

Javier Castellano, who won the Wood Memorial on Gemologist will be back aboard Sunday from Post 4.

Green B. Smith Jr.’s Nonios, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, won the Affirmed Handicap at Betfair Hollywood Park in June and last out was second in the Swaps. Corey Nakatani rides for the first time. Hollendorfer will try for his second Haskell win. The Northern California trainer took the 1989 running with King Glorious.

John C. Oxley’s Stealcase, trained by Mark Casse, will be looking for his first stakes win in the Haskell. Shaun Bridgmohan rides.

Handsome Mike has the same connections as Derby-Preakness winner I’ll Have Another. He’s owned by Paul Reddam and trained by Doug O’Neill, and his rider will be Mario Gutierrez. The son of Scat Daddy had his best day when third behind Daddy Nose Best in the El Camino Real Derby (G3) at Golden Gate, and has been sidelined since March.