07/25/2002 12:00AM

Like a Hero joins tiny Haskell


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Like a Hero hooked Came Home in the Grade 2 Swaps at Hollywood Park on July 14 and finished second, but he will have the opportunity to turn the tables in the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Aug. 4.

With the prospective field reduced to three because of the defections of War Emblem and Sunday Break, trainer Beau Greely began to consider the Haskell seriously on Wednesday. One day later, he confirmed that Like a Hero, who ran seventh in the Belmont Stakes, would be coming for the Haskell.

Greely said Like a Hero would fly into New Jersey on Thursday and named Laffit Pincay Jr. as the colt's rider. Pincay has ridden Like a Hero in five of his six career starts.

"The Haskell is a prestigious race," Greely said from California. "My horse worked very well yesterday and he looks ready to run again."

On facing Came Home again, Greely said, "He is obviously the horse to beat. When we hooked him in the Swaps, nobody ran out front. I'm hoping some speed goes out there with him in the Haskell."

The Haskell field is now up to four, with Magic Weisner and Puck as the other two definite starters.

Puck takes it easy in workout

Juan Duarte, exercise rider and assistant trainer of Puck, said the Long Branch Stakes winner cooled out after his first workout since the race on Thursday like a million dollars.

Trained by Bill White, Puck has been stabled here since the July 13 Long Branch in preparation for the Haskell. He worked a very solid six furlongs in 1:13 Thursday in his last major workout for the Haskell.

Puck, with Duarte aboard, went to the track from barn 18 around 7:30 a.m. Working from the five-eighths pole to the seven-eighths pole, clockers caught Puck in even splits of 36 seconds, 48, and 1:01, before finishing up in 1:13.

"He took it easy out there," Duarte said, "and came back very well. This track definitely moves him way up."

While Puck would have been a longshot with War Emblem and Sunday Break running in the Haskell, their defections leave a small field and give Puck a very good opportunity to pull off the upset.

"Certainly some of the marquee horses declaring out gives a bigger chance to win," White said from Calder, where Puck has spent the majority of his career. "Puck is a newcomer, a developing horse, and he still has a lot to prove. But we've always been very high on him."

Puck had never been out of Florida before coming to Monmouth for the Long Branch, the prep for the Haskell. He was ridden by Manuel Aguilar, who replaced Calder's leading rider, Cornelio Velasquez, because Velasquez remained at Calder for the Summit of Speed. White said Velasquez would reunite with Puck in the Haskell.

White said Puck would have one more workout before the race, likely an easy half-mile breeze Wednesday or Thursday next week.

Libby's Halo a new animal on turf

The undercard stakes on the Saturday card is the $50,000 Candy Eclair Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at five furlongs on the turf. Libby's Halo, who won the Polly's Jet Stakes at Delaware Park 12 days ago, is a neck away from being undefeated on the turf in three starts. She leads a field of 10 in the Candy Eclair, carded as the eighth race.

Trained by Bruce Jackson, Libby's Halo has found new life on the grass since being put there May 10. She won her first turf start gate to wire at Pimlico and then was beaten a neck in her next start at Pimlico one month later. Her first stakes appearance came in the Polly's Jet, and she stalked a quick pace to win going away by one length. Owned by Arthur Appleton, highweight Libby's Halo will have to carry 121 pounds and will be ridden by Eddie King from post 5.

The rest of the field is made up of mainly untested grass runners. Tangier Sound, trained by Jimmy Ryerson, raced eight times on the dirt before breaking his maiden on the grass at Colonial Downs July 2. He not only set the pace throughout the race, but opened up down the stretch to win by 4 1/2 lengths. Julian Pimentel gets the call.