07/15/2013 3:42PM

Saratoga: Oxbow breezes ahead of Haskell Invitational

Barbara D. Livingston
Preakness winner Oxbow breezed a half-mile at Saratoga on Monday and will run next in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 28.

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – D. Wayne Lukas has been training for 57 years, and in all that time, the Hall of Fame horseman said he’s never owned a stopwatch or timed one of his horses’ workouts. So, it mattered little to him that there was no official clocking available for Oxbow’s half-mile work, which took place over the fog-shrouded Oklahoma training track shortly after 5:30 a.m. Monday.

What did matter to Lukas was that Oxbow, who is scheduled to make his next start in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on July 28, appeared to be moving well and finished willingly once emerging from the fog at the top of the stretch in his first local work since shipping to Saratoga from Churchill Downs.

“From what I was able to see of the work, it was fine,” said Lukas, who watched Oxbow’s breeze while perched on his pony near the finish line. “My rider said he was real aggressive going off but then relaxed nicely down the backside. Not having a final time for the work doesn’t bother me. I’m more interested in what my horse is doing out there than the time. The only way I know how fast my horses go in the morning is when people tell me the time.”

Oxbow competed in all three legs of this year’s Triple Crown, winning the Preakness, running second in the Belmont, and finishing sixth after pressing a very fast pace in the Kentucky Derby. He did all his training for those three races at Churchill Downs.

“He puts in so much during his gallops that I really don’t have to do too much with him when he works,” Lukas said. “Right now, I’m just trying to maintain his form. The track at Oklahoma is a complete change from the hard surface he’s been training on at Louisville, but he seems to be handling it quite well.”

Lukas said he chose the Haskell over the Grade 2 Jim Dandy, which will be decided here one day earlier, to begin the second half of Oxbow’s 3-year-old campaign for several reasons.

“First of all, he’s the type of horse who takes his racetrack with him,” Lukas said. “He seems to run well everywhere he goes, so I don’t think he’ll have a problem running down at Monmouth. Secondly, the Haskell is a Grade 1, compared to a Grade 2, and assuming he runs well, I think that may influence people if there are championship implications at the end of the year. And third, the purse is $1 million, compared to $600,000 for the Jim Dandy.”

[SARATOGA 2013: Complete meet coverage, exclusive DRF videos]

Lukas said he will run Will Take Charge, who also competed in all three legs of this year’s Triple Crown, in the Jim Dandy.

The fog had totally lifted by the time another potential Haskell starter, Verrazano, breezed about an hour later on the main track.

Verrazano bounced back from a 14th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby to dominate Monmouth’s Grade 3 Pegasus by 9 1/2 lengths June 16. He went five-eighths in company with stablemate San Pablo in 1:01.67 on Monday before galloping out six furlongs in 1:14.54 and pulling up seven-eighths in 1:28.58.

“I was happy with his work,” trainer Todd Pletcher said. Exercise rider Jake Nelson “let him finish up a little bit the last part of it, and he spurted away from the other horse and galloped out good. He’ll work back here [this coming Monday] and then go on to the Haskell.”

Pletcher also was pleased with the way Belmont Stakes winner Palace Malice worked over the main track Sunday. Going without company, Palace Malice breezed five furlongs in 1:00.32, then galloped out extremely well into and around the turn, going six panels in 1:13.09 and seven-eighths in 1:26.26 before pulling up a mile in 1:40.37 with Nelson aboard.

“The horse is doing unbelievably well,” Pletcher said. “He bounced out of the Belmont better than ever, and everything’s gone exactly according to plan so far. He’s a May foal and just seems to be getting better and better with maturity. He’s always shown talent, and the more we do with him, the better he seems to get.

“I worked him alone for the first time when we breezed him after the Belmont, and he’s been doing great by himself, so there’s just no need to put him in company.”

Palace Malice was one of 33 horses Pletcher worked over the main track here Sunday. Among the others was Overanalyze, who breezed an easy half-mile in 50 seconds. Overanalyze has not started since finishing seventh in the Belmont. He also finished a distant 11th in the Kentucky Derby.

“We’re trying to build him back up, put a little weight back on him after the Belmont, and he’s making improvement all the time, so right now, we’ve got him scheduled for the West Virginia Derby on Aug. 3,” Pletcher said.

Another 3-year-old worker of note Monday on the main track was Departing, who went an easy half-mile in 49.30 while getting the best of stablemate Twang by nearly two lengths. Departing, trained by Al Stall Jr., has not started since finishing sixth in the Preakness. He also will make his next start in the West Virginia Derby.