01/03/2009 12:00AM

Haynesfield steps up with eye toward Derby

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OZONE PARK, N.Y. - Jockey Ramon Dominguez could have enjoyed the first Saturday in January in warm, sunny south Florida riding Now a Victor in the Grade 3, $100,000 Hal's Hope Stakes at Gulfstream Park.

Instead, with a faraway glance to the first Saturday in May, Dominguez will be at frigid Aqueduct this Saturday to ride Haynesfield in the $65,000 Count Fleet, the first stakes of the year in New York for 3-year-olds. It was a decision Dominguez said was made by his agent, Steve Rushing, but one he certainly didn't quibble with.

On Dec. 7, Dominguez rode Haynesfield to an eye-catching 5 1/4-length victory in the Damon Runyon Stakes for New York-breds. Haynesfield ran a mile and 70 yards in 1:42.95 and earned a 101 Beyer Speed Figure, the highest two-turn figure recorded by a 2-year-old in 2008.

"At this time of year, everybody's looking to get on a good 3-year-old," Rushing said. "He ran a very good number. Ramon loved the way he did it; he did it very easily."

In the Damon Runyon, Dominguez hustled Haynesfield to the front and he got away with easy early fractions of 23.46 seconds, 48.03, and 1:13.63 and had plenty left with which to finish. Dominguez hit Haynesfield once left-handed in upper stretch, but when he went to cock his whip again, Dominguez realized he didn't need it and put it away.

"I was very impressed with him," Dominguez said. "In the first quarter he was pressed, but as soon as he had any type of breather his ears came forward and he just did it very easy."

In the Count Fleet, at a mile and 70 yards, Haynesfield won't have to go any farther than he did in the Damon Runyon. Whether Haynesfield will be able to wire this field remains to be seen. Pitched Perfectly recorded faster fractions when he won a two-turn maiden race over the inner track Dec. 13. Trainer Gary Contessa said he instructed Dominguez to send Pitched Perfectly to the front that day. After drawing the rail for the Count Fleet, Contessa said he will instruct jockey Pablo Morales to do the same.

"Obviously, there's speed in this race, but they're all outside of me, and I'm as fast any of them, so they're the ones that are going to have to be saying in their minds 'Am I letting Contessa have the lead, or am I going to use my horse and get past Contessa's horse?'"

Toby Sheets, assistant to Haynesfield's trainer, Steve Asmussen, said he just wants to see his horse relaxed early on wherever that puts him.

"We'd like him to be nice and relaxed and not get in a speed duel; hopefully, he'll chill and relax a little bit," Sheets said. "He's kicking the barn down. It's cold, and everybody's feeling good."

Aswaaq, who beat Pitched Perfectly in a Dec. 3 maiden race by going gate to wire, is drawn in post 2.

Mike from Queens and Smart Bid complete the field. Bad Action will be scratched to run Sunday at Philadelphia Park, Contessa said.