07/29/2008 11:00PM

Six likely to challenge Big Brown


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The field for the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Sunday at Monmouth Park is coming into clearer focus.

Big Brown, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner who is making his first start since being pulled up in the Belmont Stakes, remains the headliner for the biggest event of the meet.

The roster of challengers continues to shift. As of Wednesday, Monmouth racing secretary Mike Dempsey projected a field of seven.

Expected to face Big Brown are Atoned, Alaazo, Magical Forest, Nistle's Crunch, and a pair from trainer Nick Zito - Coal Play and Cool Coal Man.

Coal Play was a late lineup switch, replacing Truth Rules, the winner of Monmouth's Long Branch Stakes who spiked a fever Monday that didn't break until Wednesday morning.

"He's okay now, but he can't run," Zito said. "It's sad. He was on a mission. He was doing good, that horse."

Trainer Todd Pletcher confirmed Wednesday that Atone will race wearing blinkers for the first time.

Since finishing second to Truth Rules in the Long Branch by a head, Atoned drilled four furlongs in 50 seconds last Saturday wearing the hood for the first time.

He schooled in the starting gate Wednesday morning in blinkers, a prerequisite to make the equipment change.

"He was fine," said assistant Anthony Sciametta. "He always works well. He's an easy horse to take care of. If you had a barn full of horses like him, you'd always love coming to work in the morning."

Atoned will try to cure a bad case of seconditis. In his 12 starts, Atoned has 2 wins and 7 seconds.

With Hey Byrn eliminated from Haskell consideration after a bout of colic over the weekend, Edgar Prado was freed up to ride Atoned, the only Monmouth-based horse being pointed to the race.

Atoned finally had some company on the grounds as Nistle's Crunch, a New Jersey-bred about to make the first start in his native state, arrived early Wednesday morning on a van from Churchill Downs for trainer Ken McPeek.

Hey Byrn recovering from illness

Trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. could tell Hey Byrn wasn't himself on Saturday.

By Sunday, the winner of the Grade 3 Holy Bull Stakes at Gulfstream Park was on his way to the New Jersey Equine Clinic in Clarksburg.

"It wasn't an emergency emergency," Plesa said. "He wasn't acting himself and he was colicky. We treated him for a period of time and weren't making headway."

A partial impaction was cleared without surgery.

The timing couldn't have been worse, the weekend before the Haskell.

"It just came at a bad time," said Plesa, who trains Hey Byrn for Bea Oxenberg. "It's disappointing for me. It's disappointing for the owner but it could be a lot worse. I was looking forward to was reuniting Edgar Prado with Hey Byrn. It said a lot about what he thinks of this horse to come down from Saratoga."

Prado was aboard Hey Byrn for consecutive allowance wins last winter at Gulfstream.

Hey Byrn was expected back at Plesa's barn on Wednesday or Thursday.

"I would expect he'll walk for about a week after he gets here," Plesa said. "We'll see what his energy level is before we put him back in training."

Skip the Fight stretches out

Skip the Fight, an impressive debut winner here on July 5, steps up to face winners Friday in the $50,000 allowance feature for New Jersey-breds going one mile and 70 yards.

A 3-year-old homebred gelding for owner John Sessa and trainer Alan Seewald, Skip the Fight romped in his first start, winning by 5 1/2 lengths in the six-furlong race for statebreds while posting a Beyer Speed Figure of 76.

Seewald loves the stretch out for the first-level allowance.

"I think he'll gallop," Seewald said. "We were very, very confident going into the first race. He's a real big horse who looked like he might not be able to sprint. He will go long. He is a two-turn horse."

Skip the Fight was a late getting started because of his size.

"He was just too big," Seewald said of Skip the Fight, a son of Doneraile Court out of the mare Trial Fighter. "He's probably the biggest horse in the barn. We never brought him in from the farm at 2."

* Leading rider Jose Lezcano was taken to Monmouth Medical Center for a CAT scan and observation after momentarily losing consciousness when dumped at the start of the third race Wednesday.

- additional reporting by David Grening