Sunday's $1 million Haskell Invitational Handicap, which last week had only three prospective starters, drew a field of nine Thursday morning, with Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem breaking from post 6.
One surprise entrant, Medaglia d'Oro, most likely will remain in Saratoga for the $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes. "You never know," trainer Bobby Frankel said. "Maybe they'll get a bad thunderstorm up here. It doesn't cost anything to enter. But we'll probably run at Saratoga."
War Emblem, who was installed as the 7-5 favorite, arrived at Monmouth Park at 4:25 Wednesday afternoon after a 13-hour trip, which included two 1 1/2-hour van rides. Despite the long trip and the heat, the son of Our Emblem stepped off the van cool, calm, and collected, and it appears as if he has held his flesh very well since the Belmont Stakes. He traveled so well, assistant starter Jimmy Barnes decided not to give him a bath after arriving. Another reason was that he didn't want to stir the colt up by taking him outside.
War Emblem showed he still hasn't lost any of his wildness in the barn. After being led into his stall, he went into a frenzy, and it took a good 10 minutes, and a few mints, before he settled down. Once he did, however, he was fine.
On Thursday morning, Barnes had him out at 6 a.m. to beat the heat, and gave him a three-eighths of a mile jog and a seven-furlong gallop with his pony Cisco, alongside.
When contacted via phone shortly after the draw, trainer Bob Baffert immediately asked if it was going to get any cooler in New Jersey. The weather forecast calls for continued hot weather thru Sunday, but not as bad as it was earlier this week when the temperatures neared 100, with extremely high humidity. Wednesday saw the first hint of a breeze. "It's actually more pleasant than I thought it would be," Barnes said after arriving.
When Baffert was told that War Emblem would be the first Kentucky Derby winner ever to win the Haskell, he replied, "First? How come nobody told me that before I shipped?"
Baffert said one of the reasons they decided to change their mind and run in the Haskell was the defection of Came Home. "I have a lot of respect for Came Home and I didn't want him getting in a speed duel with him," Baffert said. "That, combined with the weight and the heat, are why we decided not to go. Then when the race fell apart, and he was training so great, we decided to run."
The field for the Haskell in post position order is as follows: 1--Island Skipper; 2--Peekskill; 3--Puck; 4--Magic Weisner; 5--Mr. Mellon; 6--War Emblem; 7--Medaglia d'Oro; 8--Easyfromthegitgo; 9--Like a Hero.
Easyfromthegitgo, like Medaglia'd'Oro, was cross-entered in the Haskell and Jim Dandy. "I'll be interested to see which way Medaglia d'Oro goes," trainer Steve Asmussen said.
Like a Hero, Magic Weisner, and Island Skipper all were scheduled to arrive at Monmouth some time today. With Richard Migliore definitely riding Iron Deputy in the Jim Dandy, Nancy Alberts, owner and trainer of Magic Weisner, has named Mike Luzzi as the new rider for the Ohio Derby winner.
"I used to ride Michael, and I like to ride people I know," Alberts said. "I'm sure he'll love this horse."
One trainer looking to take the next step up the ladder is Beau Greely, who will saddle Like a Hero, runner-up in the Swaps Stakes behind Came Home. "I like this horse's chances," said Greely, who is a cousin of Monmouth's racing secretary Sean Greely. "Laffit knows the horse and will settle him where he's comfortable. When Laffit is willing to travel you know you have a shot."