07/25/2014 1:09PM

Starstruck tries for repeat in Matchmaker Stakes on Haskell undercard

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Starstruck, the winner of the 2013 Matchmaker Stakes, will go for a repeat Sunday on the Haskell Invitational undercard at Monmouth Park after suffering a bad trip in her last out.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – The Haskell Invitational undercard includes two Grade 3 turf stakes, the Oceanport at 1 1/16 miles and the Matchmaker, for fillies and mares, at 1 1/8 miles.

Each race offers a purse of $150,000, but the Matchmaker, as per its name, offers some added value. Race sponsor WinStar Farm has put up a stallion season to each of the following: Paynter, Artie Schiller, and Drosselmeyer. The connections of the top three finishers, with the winner picking first and the runner-up second, will get to select the season they want.

Earning one of those stallion seasons won’t be easy, as the Matchmaker has drawn a competitive 11-horse lineup, including last year's winner Starstruck. It is especially good to see Starstruck in the field, as she clipped heels in midstretch and came very close to falling in her last start, the Grade 3, $200,000 Robert Dick Memorial at Delaware Park.

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Starstruck relaxed just off the early pace in the 1 3/8-mile race and was lodging her bid between the eventual top two finishers, Aigue Marine (trainer Christophe Clement) and Topic (Neil Drysdale), when she was put in tight quarters and almost went down. If not for the incident, she may have finished second. Topic was disqualified from second and placed ninth behind Starstruck. Aigue Marine set a course record of 2:14.71 in the Dick Memorial.

Prior to the race, Larry Jones, the trainer of Starstruck, had said how glad he was that she was finally going to get a firm turf course that day after racing over good or yielding courses in four straight races. The turf at Monmouth is expected to be firm Sunday.

Watsdachances came within a half-length of running down Somali Lemonade in the Grade 3 Gallorette on the Preakness undercard in her most recent outing for trainer Chad Brown. That race looks all the better since Somali Lemonade came back July 19 to win the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga.

Other top contenders in the Matchmaker include Irish Mission, who will be cutting back from a runner-up effort against males in the two-mile Belmont Gold Cup for Clement, and Emotional Kitten, who finished a close fourth in the Grade 1 Jenny Wiley at Keeneland two starts back for Wesley Ward.

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Oceanport Stakes (Race 11)

The Oceanport, with a field of 10, also is wide-open.

The 7-year-old Guys Reward has been running hard for trainer Dale Romans in Grade 1 and Grade 2 company this season and should not be taken lightly. In his last three starts, Guys Reward closed well and just missed second behind Silver Max, also trained by Romans, in the Grade 2 Firecracker at Churchill Downs; was a rallying fourth of 14 in the Grade 2 Monmouth Stakes; and was beaten 2 3/4 lengths by Wise Dan in the Grade 1 Woodford Reserve Turf Classic on Derby Day.

A tough horse to figure in the Oceanport is Mshawish, who will be making his North American debut for Todd Pletcher. Mshawish has won 3 of 11 starts and $668,000 against top-flight competition in Hong Kong, Dubai, France, and Britain. He will be first-time Lasix on Sunday.


DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 6 Under Control. Trainer Graham Motion is 3 for 13 with a $3.00 ROI over the past four years in graded stakes turf routes following a win and a layoff of between 61 and 180 days. Click for more details. Dan Illman

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Teddy Drone Stakes (Race 8)

The $100,000 Teddy Drone at six furlongs features the fan favorite Ribo Bobo, trained by Jason Servis. Ribo Bobo won 10 of his 11 starts in 2013 and is 3 for 5 this year.

Ribo Bobo’s top challenge for the early lead could come from the New Jersey-bred 4-year-old Rainbow Heir, who earned a 95 Beyer Speed Figure in defeating statebred allowance company last time out while making his second start of the year for trainer Ben Perkins Jr.