07/28/2005 11:00PM

Defection expands Haskell field


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The field for the $1 million Haskell Invitational looked like a small gathering when Afleet Alex loomed a very solid favorite for Monmouth Park's premier event Aug. 7. But after a hairline fracture sidelined Afleet Alex this week, the Haskell has been put back in play for trainers who had declined invitations.

A field that figured to be four or five runners with Afleet Alex in the lineup could grow to eight or more without him. Before the Afleet Alex defection, Roman Ruler, Chekhov, and Park Avenue Ball were the only horses solidly committed to the race.

Mike Dempsey, Monmouth's racing secretary, said he expects to get a runner from trainer Nick Zito. Invitations were extended to Sun King, the front-running winner of the Grade 3 Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park; Pinpoint, who won the Sir Barton Stakes on the Preakness undercard; and Indy Storm.

Devilment, winner of the Round Table Stakes at Arlington Park, is a possibility, as is Dover Dere, the runner-up in the Grade 2 Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes at Hollywood Park.

The Afleet Alex defection has also put Surf Cat and Magna Graduate back in play for the Haskell.

Trainer Bruce Headley was pointing Surf Cat, the Swaps winner, toward the Pacific Classic against older horses, but he said the Haskell is now under strong consideration.

Trainer Todd Pletcher is looking at the Haskell for Ohio Derby runner-up Magna Graduate.

Dempsey extended an invitation Friday to Prince of Wales winner Ablo, but Ablo is "very doubtful" to run, according to Rachel Halden, trainer Roger Attfield's assistant.

Halden said stablemate Palladio, the Ohio Derby winner, is a "better possibility."

Other possible Haskell horses include Joey P, Smokescreen, and Papi Chullo.

Roman Ruler, winner of the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park last time out, is due to arrive from California on Thursday.

The beaten favorite in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile, Roman Ruler has won 4 of 7 starts. Bob Baffert, his trainer, won consecutive Haskells, with Point Given in 2001 and War Emblem in 2002.

Chekhov, currently at Saratoga with trainer Patrick Biancone, was second most recently in the Grade 3 Long Branch Breeders' Cup Stakes, Monmouth's traditional Haskell prep.

Park Avenue Ball has the shortest possible journey. He will walk over from trainer Jim Ryerson's Monmouth barn.

A New Jersey-bred, Park Avenue Ball has been pointed toward the Haskell since finishing second to Preakness runner-up Scrappy T in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct in late April. Park Avenue Ball was given a rest after the Withers and returned with an impressive win in the Long Branch.

* Jockey Dale Beckner was taken to a local hospital for X-rays of his left ankle after being thrown by his mount in Friday's sixth race. The horse, Big Hearted Way, propped on the second turn, dumping Beckner to the turf. Big Hearted Way kept running until he was caught by an outrider.