Updated on 09/16/2011 7:56AM

War Emblem returns to races in Haskell


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The roller-coaster ride of those following the progress of the prospective field for Sunday's Grade 1 Haskell Invitational is over. War Emblem, the nation's top 3-year-old, will be the heavy favorite in the $1 million Haskell, the marquee race of the

78-day Monmouth Park meet.

The nine-furlong Haskell is War Emblem's first race since stumbling at the start and finishing eighth in the Belmont Stakes in his bid to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978. The nearly two months since the June 8 Belmont has been a turbulent time for War Emblem and his connections, and his participation in the Haskell was uncertain as recently as last weekend.

War Emblem was being pointed to the Haskell, then was withdrawn from consideration by trainer Bob Baffert on July 23, one day after his owner, Prince Ahmed Salman, died. With the additional defections of Came Home and Sunday Break from the prospective field that week, the Haskell field was falling apart, with only three definite starters entering last weekend. But War Emblem, the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner, rejoined the field last Saturday, and five others are expected to face him.

Nine were entered in the Haskell, but track officials expect only six to run. Medaglia d'Oro and Peekskill will both run in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga the same day. Easyfromthegito is also entered in the Jim Dandy and is doubtful for the Haskell.

Post time for the Haskell is 5:45 p.m. Eastern, and the race will be televised live on ESPN2. The Haskell is the 11th race on a 12-race card that includes four other stakes.

The weather forecast for Sunday is partly cloudy, with a high of 86 degrees. Track officials are expecting a crowd to rival the record 47,127 that attended last year.

War Emblem is in great shape heading into the Haskell and has recovered well from the rigors of the Triple Crown, said Baffert.

"Everything looks good, and he's actually been getting better and better since the Belmont," said Baffert, who will be getting married Saturday night to Jill Moss in Coronado, Calif. "He wasn't that tired after the Belmont because he didn't get to run much. Victor [Espinoza] wrapped up on him when he knew he didn't have a chance."

War Emblem has been training well in California, at Santa Anita and then Del Mar, and he has followed the same path to the Haskell as Point Given did last year. But Point Given won the Haskell off victories in the Preakness and Belmont, and War Emblem comes into the Haskell off a loss in the Belmont.

"With the way he's training, I feel better about him than I did about Point Given last year," Baffert said. "War Emblem's style is more conducive to the Haskell."

That style is to gun for the front from post 6 under Espinoza, and War Emblem may not find much company on the lead. Island Skipper, who breaks from the inside post, has flashed speed, but he is a longshot and may not be able to keep up with War Emblem.

Puck went wire to wire in the Unbridled Stakes at Calder June 22, but he closed from off the pace in his victory in the Grade 3 Long Branch here July 13.

War Emblem will face a familiar foe Sunday. Magic Weisner came charging late in the Preakness Stakes and finished three-quarters of a length behind War Emblem at 45-1. Trained by Nancy Alberts, Magic Weisner ran fourth in the Belmont Stakes before winning the Grade 2 Ohio Derby by a neck over Wiseman's Ferry on July 20.

He returns in the Haskell off only 15 days' rest, but Alberts said he "doesn't seem half as tired" as he did after the Belmont.

"That win really pumped him up," said Alberts, who has never started a horse at Monmouth. "He even surprised me how game he was."

Like a Hero and Mr. Mellon come into the Haskell off big efforts. Like a Hero, trained by Beau Greely, earned a career-best 106 Beyer Speed Figure in his runner-up finish behind Came Home in the Grade 2 Swaps at Hollywood Park July 14. In the Belmont, Like a Hero was bumped hard at the start and ran seventh, but he has been first or second in his five other starts.

The Elliott Walden-trained Mr. Mellon won the Grade 2 Arlington Classic on turf last out, but he won the Rushaway Stakes on the dirt at Turfway Park in March. He finished sixth as the favorite in the Grade 2 Arkansas Derby.

Get free past performances for this race in DRF.com's section.

for entries.

Subscribers: to purchase Monmouth past performances.

Non-subscribers: to purchase Monmouth past performances.