07/06/2016 10:36AM

Nyquist, Exaggerator among invitees to Haskell

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Barbara D. Livingston
Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist is among the 20 initial invitees to the Haskell.

The first round of invitations to the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational have been mailed out, according to Bob Kulina, the president of Darby Development, which operates Monmouth Park on behalf of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association.

Kulina said he sent out 30 invitations. They went to virtually everyone he would want in the race, even Songbird, whose connections are not expected to accept.

“You make sure to invite everyone,” he said.

Kulina said that because the 3-year-old division is wide open this year, he expects a good-sized and competitive field.

“We have a really deep group of 3-year-olds this year,” Kulina said. “There is no clear-cut leader in the division, and there are only two Grade 1s left for 3-year-olds, the Haskell and the Travers. Guys thinking about winning the Eclipse Award have to look at our race.”

Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist tops Kulina’s wish list. On Monday, Nyquist had his third workout since returning to California following his third-place finish in the Preakness. Trainer Doug O’Neill and owner Paul Reddam are considering three races for Nyquist’s next start, the Grade 2 San Diego at Del Mar on July 23, the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on July 30, or the Grade 1 Haskell on July 31.

“I’m optimistic he will come,” Kulina said. “I’ve talked to O’Neill and feel good about it. He’s under consideration.”

Kulina said the racing manager for Big Chief Racing, which owns Preakness winner Exaggerator and Swipe, has contacted him regarding the Haskell. Exaggerator is in training but has not worked since his 11th-place finish in the Belmont Stakes on June 11.

Considered likely for the Haskell are Gun Runner, who is trained by Steve Asmussen, and Brody’s Cause or Cherry Wine, both trained by Dale Romans.

Gunner Runner finished third in the Kentucky Derby and then won the Grade 3 Matt Winn at a mile June 18 by 5 1/4 lengths. He has worked twice since that Churchill Downs race.

Brody’s Cause won the Grade 1 Blue Grass, and Cherry Wine nipped Nyquist for second in the Preakness.

“Dale has always been a big supporter of our race,” Kulina said. “I also expect Bob Baffert and Todd Pletcher will have a starter.”

Baffert has won the Haskell a record eight times, including last year with Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. His current 3-year-olds include American Freedom, who won the Grade 3 Iowa Derby on Friday, the impressive allowance winner Arrogate, Lexington Stakes winner Collected, and Rebel Stakes winner Cupid.