Like many straightaway races in England, the race for the $1 million Travers Stakes has divided into two small groups – one opting for the big bucks and grade I status of the $1 million Haskell Invitational Handicap at Monmouth Park and the other preferring to have a race over the track in the grade II, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes. Both races will be run on Aug. 4.
While most of the connections are pretty certain where they're going, some are still looking over the situation. And then there are the connections of Swaps Stakes runner-up Like a Hero, who are content to bypass both races and train up to the Travers. Another who is possibly heading to the Travers is Puzzlement, who made a triumphant return Wednesday from an injury suffered while training for the Belmont. Trained by Allen Jerkens, the Peter Pan runner-up came from far back in a 1 1/8-mile allowance at Saratoga to defeat 3-2 favorite Wild Years by three-quarters of a length in 1:50 4/5 over a slow track, labeled good.
For the past several weeks, Bob Baffert has said that Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner War Emblem would make his return in the Haskell, the day following the trainer's wedding in San Diego. Several days ago, he and racing manager Dick Mulhall changed their minds, just prior to the sudden death of War Emblem's majority owner Prince Ahmed Salman. The reason given was the assigned weight of 124 pounds, the same weight assigned Point Given in last year's Haskell. Although War Emblem captured two legs of the Triple Crown carrying 126 pounds, Baffert said he doesn't want to subject the colt, who weighs much less that Point Given, to that kind of weight, nor to the potential heat and humidity of New Jersey. The decision also came shortly after the announcement that Swaps winner Came Home, another colt with exceptional early speed and class would be heading for the Jersey Shore.
So, War Emblem, as of now, will leave his fellow classmates to battle themselves, while he remains at Del Mar to take on an evenly matched group of older horses in the mile and a quarter Pacific Classic.
With War Emblem out of the picture, the Haskell will have to look to Came Home as its star attraction. Although the son of Gone West was soundly beaten by War Emblem in the Kentucky Derby, over a distance beyond his best, he does bring more consistency and an overall better record into the race. Among his other notable scores are the Santa Anita Derby and last year's Hopeful Stakes. Trainer Paco Gonzalez, who will work Came home at Santa Anita Thursday or Friday, is hoping to find a Tex Sutton flight or he'll have to book the colt on a Federal Express flight.
"I'd like to find a flight that gets us in on Wednesday or Thursday before the race," he said. "And I'd like to get on a flight with other horses."
Also expected for the Haskell are the recent Ohio Derby winner Magic Weisner, who was a fast-closing second to War Emblem in the Preakness; and Puck, impressive winner of the Long Branch Breeders' Cup Stakes at Monmouth, as well as the Unbridled Stakes at Calder. Easyfromthegitgo, winner of the Iowa Derby. As of now, Easyfromthegitgo's trainer, Steve Asmussen, seems to be leaning against running.
As for the Jim Dandy, the nine-furlong race will be headed by Belmont Stakes runner-up Medaglia d'Oro from the Bobby Frankel stable. Frankel did qualify his Jim Dandy status by saying, "So far we're still running." Regarding the Haskell, Frankel said, "There's always a chance, if no one goes." When told the Haskell has three to five prospective starters, Frankel said, "Maybe I should run there." But despite all the indecision, Frankel still looks to be heading for the Jim Dandy. "I'm already here and I don't have to ship," he said. "We'll see."
Also pointing for the Jim Dandy is the budding star Quest, who has won his last two starts for Nick Zito. The trainer is also pointing Nothing Flat, who was flying at the end of the Dwyer Stakes, finishing a neck behind the winner Gygistar, toward the Jim Dandy. A live horse could be Mr. Mellon, winner of the Arlington Classic on the grass in his last start. The son of Red Ransom has already won the Rushaway Stakes on the dirt and packs a powerful closing punch. Trainer Elliott Walden is leaning toward the Jim Dandy, but also hasn't ruled out the Haskell. Others who could show up for the Jim Dandy are Iron Deputy, Running Tide, and Essence of Dubai. Running Tide defeated Nothing Flat in the Leonard Richards Stakes at Delaware Park on June 8.