07/30/2010 3:25PM

Leadership on the line in Haskell

Barbara D. Livingston
Trappe Shot could move to the top of the 3-year-old division with a win in Sunday's Haskell.

The 3-year-old division should have a definitive leader come sundown Sunday.

For the first time in its 43-year history, Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park drew the Kentucky Derby winner, Super Saver, and the Preakness winner, Lookin At Lucky. But wait, there’s more. The eight-horse field includes Derby runner-up Ice Box, Preakness runner-up First Dude, as well as the potential rising star Trappe Shot.

“Whoever wins this race moves to the head of the class,” said Kiaran McLaughlin, trainer of Trappe Shot.

Neither Super Saver nor Lookin At Lucky have run since the May 15 Preakness, where Lookin At Lucky rebounded from his troubled sixth in the Kentucky Derby to win the middle leg of the Triple Crown by three-quarters of a length over First Dude.

While Super Saver and Lookin At Lucky were getting a freshening, Trappe Shot announced his presence with a strong allowance win on Belmont Stakes Day and a 2 1/4-length victory in the Long Branch Stakes – in which he raced on the worst part of the track that day – on July 10.

“Going from the Long Branch to the Haskell is a big test,” McLaughlin said. “Time to see how good we are and try it. He’s doing great.

Sunday, Trappe Shot, who will be ridden by Alan Garcia, will break from the outside, which McLaughlin said is fine.

“I asked Alan what he preferred, and he said, ‘I just want to be outside of the speed,’ “ McLaughlin said. “Being that we’re all the way out maybe not ideal, but that’s where we need to be to be outside the speed so he can break and let a couple of them go.”

The horses who figure to go to the lead are First Dude, who set the pace in the Preakness and Belmont – races in which he finished second, and third, respectively – and Our Dark Knight, who has won 3 of his last 4 starts and who is a stablemate of the late-running Ice Box.

Though First Dude ran hard in both the Preakness and Belmont, trainer Dale Romans said the horse “seems to have come out of the Triple Crown as good or better than he went into it. I think he moved forward off his two big races.”

Lookin At Lucky, the 2009 2-year-old champion, will likely be favored in the Haskell for trainer Bob Baffert, who has won this race three times. Lookin At Lucky won the Rebel, had a troubled trip when he was third in the Santa Anita Derby, then had a disastrous first furlong of the Kentucky Derby when he broke from the rail and was forced to steady sharply early on. He had a much cleaner trip in the Preakness, where he was able to run down First Dude late under new rider Martin Garcia.

Though Lookin At Lucky missed some training time in June because of an illness, Baffert believes the horse has caught up.

“Martin’s going to ride his race,” Baffert said. “We need a clean trip. If he gets a clean trip he gets the job done. One thing about ‘Lucky,’ he can get to a horse really quick. He’s shown that in his works [in California] – I’ve had really good horses in front of him. That’s the thing that makes him special. I have a lot of confidence in this horse.”

After winning the Kentucky Derby in the slop at Churchill Downs, Super Saver finished a disappointing eighth in the Preakness. Trainer Todd Pletcher feels that Super Saver has rebounded nicely from the Triple Crown series and is ready to return to peak form.

“He’s put on some weight. He’s gotten a little bigger and stronger and yet we’ve been able to train him the way we want to,” Pletcher said. “His mental outlook is excellent, he’s in great form, calm, relaxed, yet on his toes when you need him to be. We feel like he’s coming up to the race in good shape.”

Pletcher trains Super Saver for WinStar Farm. That trainer/owner combination won the Haskell in 2006 with Bluegrass Cat and 2007 with Any Given Saturday.

Ice Box finished a late-running second to Super Saver in the Kentucky Derby, but then flopped as the favorite, finishing ninth in the Belmont Stakes. Trainer Nick Zito said the colt displaced his palate in the race and was affected by the heat and having to report to a raceday security barn for six hours.

Ice Box would benefit from a strong pace in the Haskell, but will also be aided by the fact that Monmouth has been kind to closers this summer.

“The track’s been playing fair this year,” Zito said. “I thought maybe this would be a good spot for him. I know it’s going to be tough. He’s very well battle-tested – he’s been running with the best all year.”


Afleet Again, who won the Grade 3 Withers at Aqueduct before finishing third in the Spend a Buck and second in the Grade 2 Pegasus, completes the field.

The Haskell will go as race 12 of 14 on a Monmouth Park card that begins at noon. The Haskell will be shown live on ABC Sports during a one-hour telecast that will also include the Oceanport Handicap.

Monmouth will offer a 50-cent pick five on races 6 through 10 with a guaranteed pool of $250,000. Monmouth will also a pick-four on races 11 through 14 with a guaranteed pool of $250,000.