Although Rachel Alexandra has been installed as the 4-5 favorite for the $1.25-million Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park Aug. 2, she could face stiff competition from several of the six 3-year-old colts entered against her.
The filly, who is scheduled to arrive at Monmouth around 8 a.m. July 31, vanning down from Saratoga, drew post 6 and will be ridden by Calvin Borel.
“It’s an excellent draw,” trainer Steve Asmussen said. “In a seven-horse field there won’t be a lot of traffic for anybody. The Haskell was an attractive race for us, and Mr. (Jess) Jackson expressed an interest in it. We’re looking forward to running there. She’s been very consistent and she has a great attitude. She’s a very special filly.”
The daughter of Medaglia d'Oro , winner of the Kentucky Oaks, BlackBerry Preakness, and Mother Goose Stakes (all gr. I) in her last three starts, should be kept busy early by the brilliant Munnings , who is coming off impressive victories in Belmont Park’s seven-furlong Woody Stephens Stakes (gr. II) in 1:20 3/5 and July 5 Tom Fool Handicap (gr. II) against older horses in 1:21 flat.
In Munnings’ only prior two-turn race, he finished 10th in the Bessemer Trust Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (gr. I) on a synthetic surface. The son of Speightstown was installed as the 3-1 second choice and will arrive at Monmouth the morning of the race. He drew post 4 and will have John Velazquez aboard.
“We’ve been lucky in the Haskell,” trainer Todd Pletcher said in discussing his reasons for stretching his colt out to 1 1/8 miles. “He’s been doing so well we felt he deserved a chance to run in a race like this. There was too much time between the Tom Fool and the King’s Bishop (gr. I) and he takes his races well. He has quite a bit of natural speed, but he’s a very kind horse and can be placed anywhere.”
If Munnings can soften up Rachel Alexandra, it could set it up for the late-closing Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Summer Bird, who has been training at Monmouth for a month, and has had four works over the track. The son of Birdstone will break from post 2, with Kent Desormeaux aboard.
“He’s really grown up and filled out and matured, but we realize this is a tough task at hand,” trainer Tim Ice said. “He’s just now putting everything together, and I think we’re going to give Rachel Alexandra a good run for her money.”
Also entered in the Haskell are Long Branch Stakes winner Atomic Rain, who was recently purchased by Godolphin; Duke of Mischief, winner of the Iowa Derby; Papa Clem , the Arkansas Derby (gr. II) winner who had a rough trip in the Long Branch, finishing third; and Bunker Hill, runner-up to Big Drama in the Red Legend Stakes at Charles Town.