07/27/2011 7:47AM

Haskell: Shackleford arrives at Monmouth Park

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Groom Ubaldo Maldanado tries to keep Shackleford from showing too much enthusiasm upon their arrival Wednesday morning at Monmouth Park.

Shackleford arrived at Monmouth Park at about 7:30 a.m. Eastern Wednesday following an overnight van ride from Kentucky in his quest to add the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational to what trainer Dale Romans hopes will be a champion’s resume.

Shackleford, winner of the Preakness and one of the leading candidates for the top 3-year-old of 2011, had an uneventful trip to the New Jersey shore after leaving his home base of Churchill Downs on Tuesday evening on a Sallee horse van.

The $1 million Haskell, the annual meet highlight at Monmouth in Oceanport, N.J., will be run Sunday for the 44th time. A field of about eight is expected when entries are drawn Thursday for the 1 1/8-mile race, with the Kelly Breen duo of Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire the top challengers to Shackleford.

“We should be all set,” Romans said from Saratoga. “He’ll just do some easy galloping up to the race, let him get familiar with the surroundings. I love the way he’s coming up to this.”

With so many top 3-year-olds having been sidelined this year, most notably Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom, Romans believes a divisional title is there for the taking with Shackleford, a speedy chestnut who was fourth in the Derby and fifth in the Belmont. The Belmont was won by Ruler On Ice at 24-1.

“I keep saying if we run big Sunday and then come back with another good showing in the Travers, we ought to have a leg up on whoever else,” said Romans.

Romans said a two-week break he gave Shackleford at WinStar Farm in Versailles, Ky., following the Belmont could prove a key move in the big picture.

“He’d really been under the gun for seven weeks, starting a couple weeks out from the Derby,” said Romans. “I think the freshening did him a world of good. Fitness isn’t an issue when you’ve done what he’s done. He’s been fresh and eager to train since he came back. He’s ready for what we’ve laid out in front of him.”

As for race strategy, Romans said jockey Jesus Castanon will “play things by ear."

"Of course we could go to the lead, but the colt will do whatever we want him to do," said Romans. "If somebody wants to gun up to the lead, like in the Preakness, go ahead. The horse might be even better with a target like that.”

Shackleford, owned by Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge, has had three straight Sunday workouts at Churchill leading up to the Haskell, with the latest being a bullet five-furlong drill in 59.20 seconds last weekend.

Other prospective starters for the 1 1/8-mile Haskell include Astrology, Coil, Concealed Identity, JJ’s Lucky Train, and Joe Vann. The race will be telecast on ABC on a one-hour broadcast from 5-6 p.m. Eastern. Seven other stakes are scheduled for a blockbuster Sunday card, including the Grade 3 Matchmaker, the Grade 3 Oceanport, the Jersey Derby, and the Lady’s Secret.

The Haskell is a Win and You’re In event toward the Nov. 5 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill. Remarkably, the Haskell has produced seven of the last 10 3-year-old champions, along with the 3-year-old filly champion and Horse of the Year of 2009, Rachel Alexandra.