07/30/2002 11:00PM

War Emblem ships well for Haskell

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - War Emblem shipped from California Wednesday and arrived safely at Monmouth Park, where he will be a heavy favorite in Sunday's $1 million Haskell Invitational.

War Emblem, winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, left his Del Mar stall at 3 a.m. Pacific and was vanned to Los Angeles International Airport, about a 90-minute ride. He flew out at around 5 a.m. and landed at Newark International Airport in New Jersey at 2:26 p.m. Eastern. He arrived at the Monmouth backside at 4:25 p.m.

Jim Barnes, assistant to trainer Bob Baffert, accompanied War Emblem on his trip.

"The trip was very smooth; no complications at all," Barnes said after War Emblem had arrived in his stall at the barn of trainer John Dowd. "He travels extremely well."

The Haskell had six definite starters as of Wednesday, the day before entries were to close for the Grade 1, 1 1/8-mile race. Along with War Emblem, the other starters are Puck, Like a Hero, Mr. Mellon, Island Skipper, and Magic Weisner. Mr. Mellon will ship in Thursday or Friday, and the other three starters come in Thursday.

The trainers of two other horses who may run in the Haskell, Easyfromthegitgo and Peekskill, continued to hedge their bets Wednesday. Trainer Tony Reinstedler said he would make a decision on Peekskill Thursday. Steve Asmussen, trainer of Iowa Derby winner Easyfromthegitgo, said he would enter his horse in the Jim Dandy at Saratoga, also to be run Sunday, and the Haskell.

Puck, who has been stabled at Monmouth since winning the Haskell prep, the Grade 3 Long Branch Stakes July 13, showed his affinity for the track once again with his final pre-race drill on Wednesday, a half-mile in 48.40.

Puck went to the track after the first renovation break at 7:30 a.m. with exercise rider Juan Duarte aboard. He broke off at the half-mile pole and breezed to the wire in the middle of the track under a tight hold from Duarte.

Puck went more quickly than Duarte expected. Monmouth clockers had him in 12.40 for the first quarter and then 12 seconds for each of the remaining furlongs.

"He went super, almost too good," Duarte said after the workout. "He went a second faster than we wanted him to do, but he just did it so comfortable that he threw off my time a little bit. I just let him cruise along out there."