07/22/2008 11:00PM

Atoned leaning toward Haskell


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Todd Pletcher will try to win the $1 million Haskell Invitational for a third straight year with a colt that consistently runs second.

Pletcher is pointing Atoned, owned by Cot Campbell's Dogwood Stable, toward the 3-year-old stakes that highlights the Monmouth Park meet on Aug. 3.

"I'm going to talk to Mr. Campbell again, but we spoke about it the other day and they are leaning towards running in the Haskell," Pletcher said Wednesday morning at Monmouth.

Pletcher captured the Grade 1 race in 2006 with Bluegrass Cat and repeated last year with Any Given Saturday.

In Atoned, Pletcher has a colt who has been so close so many times to a breakthrough score. Atoned has two wins and seven seconds in 12 starts, including narrow losses in stakes this meet to Cool Coal Man in the Spend a Buck and Truth Rules in the Long Branch.

Cool Coal Man and Truth Rules are expected back for the Haskell. Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Big Brown tops racing secretary Mike Dempsey's list of likely Haskell runners, along with Tale of Ekati, Nistle's Crunch, and Hey Byrn.

Magical Forest is a possibility.

Pletcher is contemplating an equipment change - adding blinkers - to help Atoned end an eight-race losing streak.

"I think he's shown hints that he could be moving forward," Pletcher said. "He has to polish off his races a little bit. We might work him in blinkers next time. Maybe that's the little bit of edge he needs.

"We haven't had too many horses that run as well but finished second as many times as he has. He's been a bit of a bridesmaid, but he shows up and tries hard every time."

Sister Shockey moves up

Sister Shockey, fresh from a hard-fought win, steps up a level Friday in the $51,000 allowance feature for New Jersey-bred fillies and mares.

She faces six rivals in the second-level race at a mile and 70 yards. Her win last time came in only her second route race.

"She has always been versatile, short or long," said trainer Jim Ryerson. "Being a full sister to Hurricane Shockey, we thought she would handle the stretch-out."

Going from six furlongs to one mile, Sister Shockey won the battle with trainer Eddie Broome's equally determined Cat Mistress by a neck.

"She really had to run hard to beat Eddie's horse," Ryerson said.

Saturday stakes come up light

Saturday's scheduled stakes at Monmouth have both traditionally been preps for two of the meet's most important races. This time, both came up very light when nominations closed last weekend.

The $65,000 Tyro Stakes usually sets the stage for the meet's biggest 2-year-old race, the Grade 3, $150,000 Sapling on Aug. 31. The Tyro closed with 10 nominations, and stakes coordinator Mike Melendez listed only Rapid Redux as a likely runner.

The $70,000 Skip Away is the prep for older runners pointing for the Grade 3, $300,000 Iselin Handicap on Aug. 16. The Skip Away fared slightly better with 12 nominations.

Melendez listed Gottcha Gold, Indy Wind, Sinners N Saints, and either Shopton Lane or Temporary Saint from trainer Bruce Levine as probable entrants.

Indy Wind used a win in the Skip Away last year as a springboard to a third-place finish in the Iselin.

"This is his last year of racing," owner-trainer Amy Tarrant said of the 6-year-old Indy Wind. "My goal for him is to win a graded stakes before he retires."

Velez to return from Chicago

Jose Velez Jr. will return to Monmouth on July 30. Kevin Lyons will book mounts for the veteran rider, who shifted to Arlington Park this year after spending many summers at Monmouth.

Entering Wednesday's action, Velez was 13th in the Arlington standings with 17 wins from 153 mounts, including a victory in the Arlington Classic aboard Meal Penalty.

Velez, 45, has won numerous stakes at Monmouth, with the Grade 1 United Nations on Balto Star in 2003 the most prominent.