Haskell Invitational Competitors Finalize Preparations

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Oceanport, N.J. – The final dress rehearsals went off without a hitch. Now the cast for the Grade $1 million Haskell Invitational is ready for the curtain to rise on Sunday when Monmouth Park presents its signature event and one of the most important three-year-old races on the national calendar.


            In post position order, the following is a recap of Saturday’s activity: 


·        Nonios,  who has been generating buzz on the backside since he arrived from California, jogged to the paddock and walked through it, stood in the gate, and galloped 1 ½ mile under trainer Jerry Hollendorfer’s regular East Coast exercise rider Abel Flores. He was to school in the paddock before the third race for the second straight day. “He hasn’t done a thing wrong since he got off the plane,” said Christina Jelm, the racing manager for owner G.B. Smith, Jr. “He’s a classy horse.” In five career starts with three wins, one second and a third, the Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap winner has only competed on artificial surfaces. In the mornings, he has signaled he’ll like Monmouth’s main track just fine. “The exercise rider said he had good footing and was comfortable on it. In the past, he worked bullets on the dirt at Pleasanton. Provided that everything sets up right in the race, I expect him to run very well,” Jelm said.


·        Dullahan went out after the break for a gallop of 1 ¼  miles under  exercise rider Faustino Augilar for trainer Dale Romans and the chestnut son of Even the Score looked impressive as he bounced over the racing strip. Romans, who will arrive on Sunday after saddling Tapitsfly in the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga on Saturday, said that the Kentucky Derby third place finisher will walk on Sunday. Dullahan is the only dual Grade 1 winner in the field and both of those victories were on Keeneland’s Polytrack. 


·        Paynter went out before the break for a gallop if 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Juan Pisaro and Jimmy Barnes, the assistant to five-time Haskell winning-trainer Bob Baffert, said that everything is right on schedule for the Belmont Stakes runner-up. Rafael Bejarano, now riding first call for the stable, will pilot the 3-2 morning line favorite for the first time. “Rafael has been on him numerous times for his works, and he knows him well,” said Barnes. “He doesn’t necessarily have to have the lead. In a small field like this, he’ll play the breaks and see what happens.. Once I give Rafael the leg up, it’s up to him.” Barnes added that turning back from the 1 ½ mile distance of the Belmont to the 1 1/8 mile trip in the Haskell will be to the colt’s benefit. Paynter, a son of Awesome Again, will walk on Sunday.


·        Gemologist galloped 1 ¼ miles at Saratoga under exercise rider Hector Ramos for two-time Haskell-winning trainer Todd Pletcher and the Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner will arrive at Monmouth on Sunday morning. Gemologist, who was undefeated at 2 and 3 before bruising his foot last out in the Kentucky Derby, is the 3-1 co-second choice with Dullahan. Javier Castellano has ridden the son of Tiznow in every one of his starts and sticks with him on Sunday. “Gemologist is a very good horse and he is training extremely well,” Pletcher said. “We are expecting a big effort from him tomorrow.” 


·        Handsome Mike, representing the team of trainer Doug O’Neill, owner J. Paul Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez which won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with I’ll Have Another, galloped 1 mile under exercise rider Jesus Gomez. In seven starts, the son of hot young sire Scat Daddy has only raced on dirt once and finished fourth at Santa Anita in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes. “He really likes the track here and is handling it great,” said Sabaf Rivera, who is watching over him until O’Neill checks in on Sunday. “He’s been eating good and nothing bothers him. We’re hoping that he breaks good tomorrow, we get a little bit of racing luck, and he runs good.” Handsome Mike will go out on to the track to stretch his legs on Sunday. 


·        Stealcase galloped 1 ½ miles at Saratoga and trainer Mark Casse said, “He’s wild and ready to go.”  The son of Lawyer Ron is looking for his first stakes win and comes in to the Haskell under the radar. “He most definitely is being overlooked,” Casse said. “I might be wrong, but I think that if he stays out of trouble and gets a good pace, he’s going to be very competitive. He already showed he’s got ability when Paynter just beat him in the Derby Trial. He is an underachiever but if he puts it all together, he’s going to show what he can do and I hope that’s tomorrow.” Stealcase will be vanned to Monmouth in the morning. 

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