08/03/2006 12:00AM

Bluegrass Cat far outside

Bluegrass Cat, out for exercise at Saratoga on Monday morning, is the 2-1 morning-line favorite for Sunday's $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - Bluegrass Cat, runner-up in the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes, drew the outside post for the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational on Sunday at Monmouth Park.

The premier event of the Monmouth meet attracted nine 3-year-olds for the 1 1/8-mile race. The Haskell will be televised on ESPN from 5 to 6 p.m. Eastern, with live coverage that includes Monmouth's Matchmaker Stakes for fillies and mares and the West Virginia Derby from Mountaineer Racetrack.

The Haskell field reached nine with the last-minute addition of Victory Lake, third in Monmouth's Long Branch Stakes.

Trainer Alan Goldberg initially planned to split his colts with Leonard Richards winner Awfully Smart set for the Haskell and Victory Lake pointed to the West Virginia Derby. But when the West Virginia Derby drew more than the maximum of 12 starters, Victory Lake was excluded because he has only $45,950 in career earnings.

Awfully Smart got post 2; Victory Lake has post 6. They will race as separate betting interests.

Bluegrass Cat was made the 2-1 favorite on the morning line set by Monmouth's oddsmaker, Brad Thomas. John Velazquez will ride for trainer Todd Pletcher.

"The post position isn't that big a deal for him because he is so versatile," said Elliott Walden, the racing manager for WinStar Farm, which owns and bred the son of Storm Cat. "If he needs to be pushed along a little bit to get over, he can do that. Or if he needs to take back a little bit to get over, he can do that."

Strong Contender, the 5-2 second choice, got post 3 with Edgar Prado set to ride for trainer John Ward.

Strong Contender makes his Grade 1 debut following a dominant win in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park.

"I think it's a perfect draw for us," Ward said. "It puts us down close to the fence. This horse has some lick, when you want to use it. It gives Edgar Prado the ability to do with the horse what he feels best."

The field also includes Deputy Glitters (post 7), winner of the Ohio Derby; Praying for Cash (post 5), who won the Long Branch; Electrify (post 8), winner of Calder's Unbridled Stakes; and Little Cliff (post 4), third as the favorite in the Leonard Richards at Delaware.

Flashy Bull, third-place finisher in the Ohio Derby, was entered in both the Haskell and the West Virginia Derby.