07/23/2012 5:12PM

Curlin, Haskell, and Jim Dandy will sort out new-look 3-year-old division

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Tom Keyser
Paynter headlines what is expected to be a small field in the Haskell.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – With its stars sidelined, the 3-year-old division will be looking for some once-highly regarded players and some fresh faces to help make things interesting in the second half of the year.

Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner I’ll Have Another and Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags are both retired. Derby and Preakness runner-up Bodemeister is sidelined because of a temperature, leaving his stablemate Paynter, the Belmont Stakes runner-up and a horse who has yet to win a stakes race, as the marquee runner in this weekend’s trio of stakes activity.

Friday’s $100,000 Curlin, Saturday’s $600,000 Jim Dandy, and Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park should produce the bulk of the field for the $1 million Travers Stakes here on Aug. 25.

Paynter, trained by Bob Baffert, headlines what is shaping up to be a small field for the Haskell. He is expected to be joined by Dullahan, the Derby third-place finisher, as well as Nonios, Handsome Mike, and Stealcase.

Paynter’s stablemate Liaison, who is 0 for 6 this year, was confirmed Monday by Baffert as a starter for the Jim Dandy.

On Monday, over Del Mar’s Polytrack surface, Paynter and Liaison worked six-furlongs in company. Liaison, under jockey Martin Garcia, broke off several lengths in front of Paynter, who had Rafael Bejarano aboard. Although Paynter was under more encouragement in the final furlong, he never made up any appreciable ground on Liaison, who was under no pressure from Garcia.

Liaison was officially timed in 1:12.40, while Paynter was given a clocking of 1:11.80, which was the fastest time of nine at the distance on Monday.

Garcia was not originally scheduled to go to Saratoga to ride Liaison, but he was so impressed with the work that he and his agent, Jim Pegram, took off their mounts at Del Mar on Saturday so Garcia could travel to Saratoga.

“He’s really improved since his last work,” Baffert said of Liaison. “I probably gave him too much of a head start on Paynter. Paynter is a lazy work horse. But he galloped out a mile in 1:39.”

Paynter has not raced since finishing second in the Belmont. “He got hit hard in a hind leg, skinned up his leg, and pulled a shoe,” Baffert said. “He was sore for a couple of days, but he came out of it and he’s been doing great.”

Liaison, along with stablemate Gun Boat, running in Sunday’s Amsterdam at Saratoga, were scheduled to ship to Saratoga on Tuesday. Paynter will be flown to New Jersey on Thursday.

Liaison’s competition in the Jim Dandy is expected to include Alpha, Atigun, Fast Falcon, Neck ‘n Neck, Prospective, and Teeth of the Dog. Gemologist is likely.

On Monday, Neck ‘n Neck, winner of the Matt Winn Stakes in his last start, worked a sharp five furlongs in 59.67 seconds over Saratoga’s main track. It was a bit of an adventurous breeze in that two horses broke from the gate and were running right behind Neck ‘n Neck at the start of his breeze. In the stretch, Neck ‘n Neck saw and caught a horse of David Jacobson’s who was breezing.

“He got an education,” trainer Ian Wilkes said.

Gemologist, the Wood Memorial winner who finished 16th in the Kentucky Derby, is being considered for both the Jim Dandy and Haskell.

Elliott Walden, the president of WinStar Farm, which owns Gemologist, said Monday that a decision would likely be made on Wednesday, entry day for the Jim Dandy. Entries for the Haskell are taken Thursday.

On Sunday, Gemologist put in a sensational five-furlong workout over Saratoga’s main track, going five furlongs in 58.67 seconds.

“I thought he breezed as well this morning as he’s ever breezed, and he’s always been a good work horse,” Pletcher said. “But he was exceptionally good this morning.”

Gemologist won his first five starts before the Kentucky Derby. As a 2-year-old, Gemologist won the Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, a race in which he defeated Ever So Lucky.

Ever So Lucky, who didn’t quite make the classics, was one of eight horses entered Monday for Friday’s $100,000 Curlin Stakes at Saratoga.

Ever So Lucky, trained by Jonathan Sheppard, developed a thyroid problem after finishing 10th in the Blue Grass Stakes in April. He returned from a three-month layoff to win an allowance race at Delaware Park by seven 7 1/2 lengths on July 5.

“It wasn’t a strong field, but he won for fun,” Sheppard said Monday at Saratoga. “Hopefully, that puts him back on track.”

On Sunday, Ever So Lucky worked five furlongs in 59.38 seconds over the main track under jockey John Velazquez, who will ride him in the Curlin.

Street Life, fourth in the Belmont Stakes, will likely be the favorite in the Curlin. Others entered in the Curlin are Politicallycorrect, Reload, Easter Gift, Five Sixteen, Love to Run, and Morgan’s Guerrilla.

– additional reporting by Jay Privman