07/22/2009 11:00PM

Haskell purse raised to $1.25 million

Barbara D. Livingston
Papa Clem is "95 percent" certain for the Haskell, according to his trainer, Gary Stute.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - Rachel Alexandra, Summer Bird, and company will be running for enhanced money in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.

Monmouth Park added $250,000 to the Haskell on Thursday, lifting the purse to $1.25 million for the biggest event of the meet on Aug. 2.

The winner's share will be $700,000. Second is worth $250,000; third, $125,000; fourth, $85,000; and fifth, $50,000. All other runners get $20,000.

The added money gives Monmouth officials a marketing tool in the effort to lure leading 3-year-olds to the Haskell, which faces intense competition that weekend. On Saturday, Mountaineer Park presents the $750,000 West Virginia Derby while Saratoga has the $500,000 Jim Dandy.

"We're doing our best to attract the stars, and this makes the race even more attractive," said Bob Kulina, Monmouth's vice president and general manager. "Not only do we reward the winner with more money, we make it more attractive for all participants."

The enhanced stakes money will come from funds set aside for the stakes program here and at the Meadowlands Racetrack. With no cuts planned at Monmouth, the fall stakes at the Meadowlands face purse reductions.

"We're dealing with money that has been allocated for stakes," Kulina said. "Our excellent relationship with the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association gives us the latitude to shift the funds."

The sensational filly Rachel Alexandra, looking to again conquer the colts as she did in the Preakness, heads a Haskell lineup that is expected to include Summer Bird, Munnings, Papa Clem, and Bunker Hill. Duke of Mischief is possible.

Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird has already been here several weeks preparing for the Haskell. He is slated to school in the paddock Friday with the field for the third race.

Papa Clem moved closer to the Haskell starting gate Thursday when trainer Gary Stute upgraded the likelihood he will run to "95 percent."

The Arkansas Derby winner, Papa Clem ran in Monmouth's Long Branch Stakes on July 11, finishing third in his first race since a sixth-place effort in the Preakness.

Stute left the colt at Monmouth as he wavered between the Haskell and the Jim Dandy. Much of the indecision was predicated on the availability of regular rider Rafael Bejarano.

That became a moot point when Bejarano was injured in a Wednesday spill at Del Mar.

"On Wednesday morning, Bejarano gave me the call for the Haskell and then he went down that afternoon," Stute said from California. "We are still planning on running in the Haskell."

Stute now needs a rider. The front-runners are Elvis Trujillo, Monmouth's leading rider who pinch-hit for Bejarano in the Long Branch, and Tyler Baze, the rider for Papa Clem's first two races.

Duke of Mischief remains on the Haskell fence with the Jim Dandy the other option.

"We're kind of teetering in the middle right now," trainer David Fawkes said from Florida.

Fawkes will make the decision on the Iowa Derby winner following his next breeze on Saturday at Calder.

Bunker Hill had his final Haskell breeze Thursday at Monmouth. Trainer Derek Ryan had initially set the work for Saturday, but moved it up with rain in the forecast the next several days.

Bunker Hill was certainly ready, turning in the bullet work for five furlongs: 59.40 seconds in the blinkers he will don for the first time in the Haskell.

"He's been working gangbusters with the blinkers on," Ryan said. "But if the filly runs her race, we're all running for second money, anyway."

That's not a bad prize, with the enhanced purse.