Updated on 07/28/2013 11:48PM

Haskell Invitational: Verrazano, Oxbow top field of seven

Barbara D. Livingston
Verrazano has been made the 9-5 morning-line favorite for Sunday's $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – From his maiden win on New Year’s Day to his victory in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial in early April, Verrazano was the darling of the 3-year-old division in the first third of the year.

The bloom came off the rose when Verrazano finished 14th in the Kentucky Derby on a sloppy track. Now, as the second half of the season in the 3-year-old division gets into full swing this weekend, Verrazano seeks to play catch-up when he runs against Preakness winner Oxbow and five others in Sunday’s Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

Verrazano was made the 9-5 morning-line favorite by Monmouth handicapper Brad Thomas, with Oxbow the 2-1 second choice.

“The Haskell is a big race for him,” trainer Todd Pletcher, a two-time winner of the Haskell, said of Verrazano. “If he wins that, everybody will love him. If he loses the next one, everyone will knock him.”

Verrazano didn’t get many plaudits for his 9 1/4-length victory in the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth on June 16. The race was billed as a showdown between Verrazano and Holy Bull Stakes winner and Preakness runner-up Itsmyluckyday, but the latter got injured early in the race, leaving Verrazano basically unchallenged as he cruised to victory.

“It’s a what-have-you-done-for-me lately business, and I think his last race was very good,” Pletcher said. “It wasn’t his fault that Itsmyluckyday got hurt, so he can only do what he could do.”

The competition gets a little steeper Sunday, when Verrazano takes on Oxbow, the Preakness winner and Belmont Stakes runner-up, trained by Pletcher’s former boss, D. Wayne Lukas.

Oxbow and Verrazano have similar running styles in that they both like to be forwardly placed, which is why Pletcher was quite happy when Verrazano drew post 7, with Power Broker, another speed horse, and Oxbow both inside of him in posts 4 and 5.

“I think it gives us options, you know, rather than having to commit to anything leaving the gate,” said Pletcher, who has John Velazquez to ride. “We’re not taking back, but at the same time, it forces other guys to make a decision on what they’re going to do.”

Lukas has been training Oxbow a little differently leading up to the Haskell. He has given him longer jogs and gallops as opposed to stiff workouts. Lukas said his desire is to have a horse who will relax a bit more, though he doesn’t expect Oxbow to be too far off the pace Sunday.

Trainer Bob Baffert has won six runnings of the Haskell, including the last three. He was wavering on whether to run Power Broker and decided to go after the horse worked a solid five furlongs Tuesday at Del Mar.

“Verrazano and Oxbow have already proven they’re really nice 3-year-olds,” Baffert said. “Hopefully, we can run with them. The horse, the way he’s been training, he deserves a chance. I don’t know how good he is. We’re going to get a good gauge how good he is.”

Rosie Napravnik, aboard Power Broker for an allowance win at Churchill Downs in May and a score in the Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont last month, will ride Power Broker.

Micromanage finished second to Power Broker in the Easy Goer and came back to win the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth on July 7, making him 2 for 2 at Monmouth. Joe Bravo will ride.

Vyjack, the Grade 3 Gotham winner, was a late addition to the Haskell field. He was entered for Saturday’s Grade 2, $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga, where he drew post 10.

Vyjack was assigned the rail for the Haskell, and owner David Wilkenfeld said Thursday he was leaning toward the Haskell, though he would not make a decision until Friday.

Golden Soul, the Kentucky Derby runner-up, drew post 3, and Pick of the Litter, who has not run since finishing third in the Grade 3 Lexington in April, has post 2.

The Haskell is race 13 on a 14-race card that begins at noon. The card also includes the Grade 2, $200,000 Molly Pitcher, featuring Funny Proposition and Joyful Victory; the Grade 2, $200,000 Monmouth Cup, with Take Charge Indy, Pants On Fire, and Hymn Book; the Grade 3, $150,000 Matchmaker, topped by Channel Lady; and the Grade 3, $150,000 Oceanport, led by Hudson Steele, Silver Max, and Swift Warrior.