07/25/2012 4:02PM

Monmouth notes: Dullahan stretches legs for Haskell meeting with Paynter, Gemologist

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Dullahan gallops on the Monmouth surface in preparation for Sunday's Haskell.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Dullahan got acquainted with the Monmouth Park racing surface for the first time on Wednesday morning, galloping 1 1/2 miles in preparation for the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Sunday.

The winner of the Blue Grass Stakes, Dullahan joins Paynter and Gemologist as the top contenders in the 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds.

A field of six appears likely for the premier event of the meet when post positions are drawn Thursday afternoon.

This will be Dullahan’s first start since running seventh in the Belmont Stakes, a disappointing follow-up to his third-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

Paynter, the leader every stride in the Belmont until the final ones, is expected to arrive on Thursday along with Nonios on a flight from California.

Paynter is trained by Bob Baffert, winner of a record five Haskells, including the last two editions with Lookin At Lucky and Coil.

Nonios, trained by Jerry Hollendorfer, will be making his first start outside California and first on dirt. The winner of the Grade 3 Affirmed, Nonios was second most recently in the Grade 2 Swaps at Betfair Hollywood Park.

Gemologist was confirmed as a starter on Wednesday morning by WinStar Farm, winner of the Haskell in 2006 (Bluegrass Cat) and 2007 (Any Given Saturday).

Unbeaten in five starts to begin his career, Gemologist looks to rebound from a 16th place finish in the Derby.

Completing the expected field are Stealcase and Handsome Mike, trained by Doug O’Neill, who saddled I’ll Have Another to Kentucky Derby and Preakness wins this spring.

Must Be Love eyes clean trip

Haskell weekend kicks off Friday afternoon with a 10-race card starting at 12:45 p.m. Eastern.

The feature is a $42,000 first-level allowance for filly and mare turf sprinters where Must Be Love looks to build on a third-place finish in a similar event here earlier this month.

In her first race since shipping up from Florida for trainer David Fawkes, Must Be Love got away a step slower than usual and wound up in a traffic jam heading into the turn of the five-furlong race. Forced to steady and rally from last in the six-horse field, Must Be Love charged home fastest of all after swinging wide for the stretch run.

“She’s coming up to his race really good,” Fawkes said. “She had a troubled trip last time. She got sandwiched pretty good. We’re hoping for a clean trip.”

Fawkes is also hoping for a little less early pace this time following a race in which the fractions were 21.08 and 43.67.

“They went really quick early,” Fawkes said. “She’s not quite that quick. They got away from her a little bit but she ran a really good race. If she didn’t get stopped, I think she wins it.”

Joe Bravo has the return call.

Natalie’s Goal took a class drop from that same allowance race to capture a $25,000 claimer last weekend. This will be her third race since July 6. Miss Sprightly and No Splits both step up following maiden wins.