07/31/2003 11:00PM

Wild and Wicked: No one's defeated him yet


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Funny Cide, Peace Rules, and Sky Mesa have already established themselves as Grade 1 winners. The talented trio top the seven-horse field in the $1 million Haskell Invitational Sunday at Monmouth Park.

But many handicappers, and trainer Ken McPeek, would not be shocked if the undefeated Wild and Wicked emerged from the Haskell as the latest Grade 1 winner in the 3-year-old division.

"He's never been beaten in the morning," McPeek said recently from his barn at Saratoga. "He's never been beaten in the afternoon."

Wild and Wicked, a son of Wild Again, puts a three-race winning streak on the line. There was little suspense or drama in any of his races.

Wild and Wicked debuted in April at Keeneland and romped to a 9 1/2-length win. He posted another front-running score in his next outing at Churchill Downs in May.

He effortlessly handled his first graded-stakes challenge in the Grade 2 Ohio Derby, drawing away to a 3 1/4-length win.

Now comes the race that will define where Wild and Wicked fits on the class scale.

"He will be tested by the best," McPeek said. "We'll see if he fits."

McPeek feels that the timing is right to take the test.

"He's training great, even better than before the Ohio Derby," McPeek said. "He's doing fantastic. At some point we have to see where he fits. We believe he is this kind of horse, and now is the time to let him prove it."

Wild and Wicked showed an ability to stalk in the Ohio Derby that will serve him well in the Haskell. He won the first two races on raw ability. The Ohio Derby marked the first time jockey Shane Sellers asked Wild and Wicked to conserve his run for the stretch.

"There was no doubt in my mind that he could do it," McPeek said. "He needed to show he could punch off the pace."

Wild and Wicked rated close to the pace at Thistledown, never letting the pacesetter open more than a 2 1/2-length advantage.

That kind of trip would be ideal in the Haskell, which has an abundance of early speed.

Blue Grass winner Peace Rules, the New Jersey-bred Kool Humor, and Iowa Derby winner Excessivepleasure could wind up in a spirited fight for the lead.

Deep closers don't usually fare well at Monmouth, which leaves the race to the likely trio of stalkers: Funny Cide, Sky Mesa, and Wild and Wicked.

"He's got tactical speed, but the trip is really up to Shane Sellers," McPeek said. "He knows this horse well. Wild and Wicked is very classy and professional. He'll do whatever you need him to do.

"I believe he can come from third or fourth if you needed him to. I don't think you'll see him much further back than that."

Clearly a Queen retires to breeding shed

Clearly a Queen, winner of the Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap and Matchmaker Stakes at Monmouth last year, has been retired and will join owner John Franks's broodmare band at Rockwell Farm in Kentucky.

A 6-year-old mare, she suffered a sesamoid injury in the Eatontown and never fully recovered.

"I'll miss her," said trainer Terri Pompay. "It's time for her to be a mommy."

Vinemeister staying home for Iselin

Alan Seewald and the owners of Vinemeister had a change of heart and will now point the Grade 3 Salvator Mile winner toward Monmouth's Grade 3, $200,000 Iselin Breeders' Cup Stakes at 1 1/8 miles on Aug. 23.

Seewald had indicated a preference for a shorter race, but decided to remain at home.

"The major issue was the shipping," Seewald said. "He'll handle this much better."

Here's why Tagg likes shipping in late

Barclay Tagg, the trainer of Funny Cide, likes to van his horses to races at the last moment. Funny Cide was scheduled to arrive at Monmouth early Sunday morning from Saratoga, then race 12 hours later.

"I've had a lot of luck shipping in late to races over the years," Tagg said. "I had a lot of luck shipping from Laurel to Saratoga over the years. I don't think it bothers most horses, and I don't think it bothers him. Plus they usually tighten the track for big races. Spending a week at a track, and then having them change it at the last minute, doesn't do any good."

O'Neill shipper aiming high

Doug O'Neill, who was the leading trainer at Hollywood Park and is off to a fast start at Del Mar, has seen his recent success translate into opportunities to visit new tracks with the better horses he now trains. Excessivepleasure, O'Neill's representative in the Haskell, already owns victories this year in the WinStar Derby at Sunland Park and the Iowa Derby at Prairie Meadows.

O'Neill admitted the Haskell was a big step up.

"Our little Cal-bred is a two-time Derby winner. Granted," O'Neill said, laughing, "it's not the Kentucky Derby."

- Additional reporting by Jay Privman