08/11/2004 12:00AM

Rock Hard Ten sick, likely out of Travers


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer Jason Orman knew something was wrong as he watched Rock Hard Ten finish a retreating sixth in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Sunday.

An impressive winner of the Swaps Stakes at Hollywood Park in his previous start, Rock Hard Ten stalked the pace set by eventual winner Lion Heart but dropped out of contention on the final turn.

It turned out Rock Hard Ten was ill. The postrace endoscopic examination detected copious mucus, and the blood work was off.

It was good news/bad news for Orman. While disappointed with the result, Orman was relieved it was nothing more serious.

"I figured something had to be wrong," said Orman. "I was just happy that he was sound. I'm sure he will come back and show how good he is."

The illness struck without warning. Rock Hard Ten looked healthy and galloped strongly at Monmouth in the days leading up to the Haskell.

"Perhaps it was the traveling or the stress of the race that got to him," said Orman.

While Orman returned to California, Rock Hard Ten remains at Monmouth for recuperation at Kelly Breen's barn. Rock Hard Ten has not been back to the track since the Haskell.

The colt was scheduled to fly home Tuesday, but those plans were scrubbed. Additional blood will be drawn Friday; if Rock Hard Ten shows sufficient progress, he could fly out on Monday.

Orman had no immediate plans for a next start, wanting to "wait and see how quickly he recovers."

Orman said it was "90 percent certain" that Rock Hard Ten would not make the next major 3-year-old event, the Grade 1, $1 million Travers at Saratoga on Aug. 28.

Rock Hard Ten burst onto the national scene when he finished second in the Santa Anita Derby in his third lifetime start. He was disqualified for interference and placed third, a costly infraction that denied him the graded-stakes earnings needed to make the Kentucky Derby.

Rock Hard Ten ran second in the Preakness and fifth in the Belmont Stakes, his last race before the Swaps.

Record total handle on Haskell card

Haskell Day was a rousing success at Monmouth Park and posted strong business numbers.

Monmouth fans had been spoiled in recent years, as the Haskell drew the leading 3-year-olds including Point Given, War Emblem, and Funny Cide. This was the first time since 2000 that the Haskell field did not include the winner of a Triple Crown race.

They still came and bet.

The attendance was 45,369, third-highest in Monmouth's history. It trailed only the 53,638 for the 2003 Haskell and the 47,127 for the 2001 Haskell.

Total handle, including all simulcast and offtrack outlets, on the 14-race Haskell program was a record $12,686,430, surpassing the $12,536,345 for the 2003 Haskell.

Ontrack betting was strong as well. Monmouth handled $3,802,494 on the live card, second to the record $3,965,648 wagered on last year's Haskell card.

Haskell Day capped a big weekend for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns Monmouth and The Meadowlands Racetrack.

The harness meet at The Meadowlands concluded Saturday with the $1 million Hambletonian, which attracted 30,117 fans and the second-largest total handle in Standardbred history, $8,106,222.

The tracks offered a cross-breed daily double that linked the Hambletonian and the Haskell. Windsong's Legacy ($11) won the Hambletonian and Lion Heart ($5.80) took the Haskell, producing a $52.20 payoff.

The consolation double of Windsong's Legacy and Pollard's Vision, who scratched out of the Haskell to run in the West Virginia Derby, paid $11.40.

Friday feature could come off turf

Midafternoon showers Wednesday forced both of that afternoon's grass races off the turf. With more rain forecast for Thursday, the surface status of Friday's feature, a $41,000 allowance slated for five furlongs on the grass, is uncertain.

Either way, it looks like a good spot for Special Judge, who ran second in his last two races while showing consistent Beyer Figures on either surface.

He ran an 83 on the grass on June 30 and earned an 80 when he missed by three-quarters of a length in an off-the-turf race on Aug. 1.

Eibar Coa gets the ride for trainer Norman Pointer.