Curlin the Star of Aug. 5 Haskell
Photo: Barbara D. Livingston
Preakness winner Curlin faces old rivals in Sunday's Haskell Invitational.
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During the post position draw for the Aug. 5 running of the $1-million Haskell Invitational (gr. 1), Steve Asmussen was asked if Curlin was the best horse he has ever trained. A master of understatement, Asmussen–who has won more than 3,000 career races–flatly replied : “I think that would be very reasonable.”

Without doubt, Preakness Stakes (gr. 1) victor Curlin is the star of the 1 1/8-mile Haskell at Monmouth Park.  If he wins, it could set up an electrifying 3-year-old championship in the $5-million Breeders’ Cup Classic Powered by Dodge (gr. I) later this year, also to be run in Oceanport, N.J.

Curlin, whose last race was a heart-pounding loss to Rags to Riches in the Belmont Stakes (gr. 1), has made recent three works at Saratoga. If the son of Smart Strike   is fit and ready to go, the field of eight should set up perfectly for him. Asmussen said the race's quick pace, which is likely to be set by Stormello and Cable Boy, will suit his colt just fine.

“That’s one of the main reasons why we chose the Haskell,” Asmussen said of the early speed. “The Breeders’ Cup has been our main objective for the second half of the year. Talent-wise, (Curlin) is capable of doing anything we want him to. This horse has spoiled us with his consistency. We’re very pleased with him.”

Curlin, who was installed as the even-money favorite, is likely to get his main competition from familiar foes Hard Spun and Any Given Saturday.

Trained by Larry Jones, Hard Spun finished second in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. 1), but regressed in his next two Triple Crown efforts. After criticizing jockey Mario Pino’s ride in the Preakness, Jones switched to Garrett Gomez for the Belmont. Apparently Jones, or more likely owner Rick Porter, had second thoughts again. Pino is back in the saddle again for the 5-2 second choice.

“Well, we didn’t see any improvement (with Gomez) when we changed,” said Jones. “We’re trying to keep everyone happy, and the owner requested a little bit of a change. The original team is back together.”

Gomez could be better off anyway on Any Given Saturday, the colt he rode in the Kentucky Derby and most recently, in the Dwyer Stakes (gr. II) at Belmont July 4 when the son of Distorted Humor   won by four lengths. Trained by Todd Pletcher, Any Given Saturday (3-1) seems to be peaking in the second half of his 3-year-old campaign. Pletcher hinted the dark bay colt may be sitting on a big effort.

“We gave him plenty of time before (the Dwyer),” said Pletcher, who won this event last year with Bluegrass Cat. “He gained weight and is stronger. We couldn’t be more pleased with him. The Dwyer was a breakthrough performance. He’s definitely a better horse than he was this spring.”

Cable Boy (8-1) is the most likely local horse to be a factor. Trained by John Forbes, the son of Jump Start   has made his three career starts–all wins at Monmouth. His most recent effort was a 3 3/4-length victory in the Coronado’s Quest Stakes June 24. In his previous start, he broke the track record for a mile and 70 yards.

Cable Boy "definitely loves this racetrack,” said Forbes. “(Jockey) Jose (Velez Jr.) said he had plenty left under him, too.”

Reata’s Shadow (50-1), also stabled at Monmouth, Xchanger (20-1), who won the Barbaro Stakes (gr. III) at Delaware Park July 15, and Imawildandcrazyguy round out the field.

The race will be televised on TVG. Post time is set for 6:12 p.m. EDT.

$1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I, Race 13, 6:12 p.m.), 3-year-olds, 1 1/8-mile
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Any Given Saturday (KY), Garret Gomez
2. Cable Boy (KY), Jose Velez, Jr.
3. Stormello (KY), Eddie Castro
4. Imawildandcrazyguy (FL), Manoel Cruz
5. Reata's Shadow (KY), Joe Bravo
6. Curlin (KY), Robby Albarado
7. Hard Spun (PA), Mario Pino
8. Xchanger (FL), Edgar S. Prado

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