07/25/2002 11:00PM

Came Home to skip Haskell

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DEL MAR, Calif. - The $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 4 lost its second leading candidate in a week when trainer Paco Gonzalez said Friday that Came Home would pass the race in favor of the $200,000 King's Bishop Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 24.

War Emblem, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, was declared from the Haskell on Tuesday after the death of owner Prince Ahmed bin Salman. In addition, trainer Bob Baffert said he was dissatisfied with War Emblem's 124-pound weight assignment.

Came Home, a five-time stakes winner this year, captured the Affirmed Handicap and Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park earlier this summer and would have been favored in the Haskell against a small field.

His defection has encouraged owners and trainers with leading 3-year-olds to take a closer look in deciding between the Haskell and the $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on the same day.

Gonzalez said Came Home will pass the Haskell to give him additional time between the Swaps Stakes on July 14 and the seven-furlong King's Bishop. "I know it's $1 million and only four or five horses, but it would be three races in six weeks," Gonzalez said.

Came Home worked five furlongs in 1:02.20 on Friday at Santa Anita under jockey Mike Smith. The time was a second slower than Gonzalez had hoped to see.

Several trainers based at Saratoga are now giving more consideration to the Haskell. D. Wayne Lukas said that Shah Jehan, the runner-up in the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park on July 13, may run in the Haskell. He was an intended starter in a seven-furlong allowance race at Saratoga on Saturday, Lukas said.

As of Friday, the Haskell field had three probables: Magic Weisner, Puck, and Like a Hero. Trainer Tony Reinstedler said he is considering starting Peekskill, who was fourth in the Ohio Derby.

Magic Weisner, second in the Preakness Stakes and the winner of the Ohio Derby on July 20, is the strong favorite. Trainer Nancy Alberts said that Magic Weisner will arrive at Monmouth on Thursday.

Before Came Home's defection from the Haskell, the Jim Dandy had as many as 11 possible starters including Medaglia d'Oro, Easyfromthegitgo, Essence of Dubai, Fisher Pond, Gygistar, Iron Deputy, Nothing Flat, Quest, Stephentown, Mr. Mellon, and Running Tide.

Bobby Frankel, trainer of Belmont Stakes runner-up Medaglia d'Oro, said he may also look at the Haskell. Plans for Mr. Mellon hinge on a Sunday workout at Saratoga, trainer Elliott Walden said. Trainer Steve Asmussen was set to run Easyfromthegitgo in the Jim Dandy but was stunned to learn that Came Home was skipping the Haskell.

"There's no way in the world I can pass that if he didn't run," Asmussen said. "What a weird 3-year-old year." Asmussen said Easyfromthegitgo would work Monday at Saratoga before making a final decision.

- additional reporting by Ryan Goldberg and David Grening