Three-year-olds are back in the spotlight Sunday at Monmouth Park as a strong
field of six will contest the Grade 1, $1 million
Invitational. Belmont Stakes runner-up Paynter has been established as the
3-2 favorite on the morning line for the 1 1/8-mile event, with Grade 1 winners
Dullahan and Gemologist the 3-1 co-second choices.
Grade 3 hero Nonios, who invades from California for trainer Jerry Hollendorfer off a close second in the Grade 2 Swaps Stakes, comes next at 7-2 on the morning line. Multiple Grade 3-placed outsiders Stealcase (8-1) and Handsome Mike (15-1) round out the field.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, who owns a record five wins in Monmouth's signature event, will send out the speedy Paynter. A debut winner at Santa Anita in mid-February, the Zayat Stables colorbearer followed with a fourth in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby and a second in the Grade 3 Derby Trial. He returned to the win column with an impressive 5 3/4-length allowance score on the Preakness Stakes undercard and the Awesome Again colt nearly stole the 1 1/2-mile Belmont Stakes on the lead, losing in the final strides by a neck to the now-retired Union Rags.
Paynter has recorded four consecutive "bullet" workouts in advance of the Haskell, drilling six furlongs in 1:11 4/5 most recently at Del Mar, and Rafael Bejarano will pick up the mount on the likely controlling speed.
Baffert's previous Haskell winners are Coil (2011), Lookin at Lucky (2010), Roman Ruler (2005), War Emblem (2002) and Point Given (2001).
Dullahan captured both the Grade 1 Breeders' Futurity last fall and the Grade 1 Blue Grass this spring on Polytrack, but the Dale Romans-trained colt distinguished himself on dirt when recording a fast-finishing third in the Kentucky Derby, overcoming an extremely wide trip to miss by only 1 1/4 lengths on the wire. The chestnut half-brother to 2009 Derby hero Mine That Bird turned in a disappointing seventh as a favorite last time in the Belmont Stakes, but Dullahan appears to be training forwardly for the Haskell, recording a five-furlong work in :59 4/5 last week at Churchill Downs. Kent Desormeaux regains the mount on the late runner.
Gemologist entered the Kentucky Derby with a perfect ledger, posting notable wins in the Grade 1 Wood Memorial and Grade 2 Kentucky Jockey Club, and was bet down as the 8-1 third choice among 20 rivals. The bay son of Tiznow was in perfect position to challenge before inexplicably fading to 16th in the stretch, and it turned out that he had bruised a foot during the race. Gemologist will look to make amends off the freshening for Todd Pletcher and shows a pair of swift works at Saratoga in preparation. He figures to be up close tracking the pace with Javier Castellano.
Nonios is an up-and-coming colt who has run well in his first two stakes performances. He rallied to a half-length decision in the Grade 3 Affirmed two back, comfortably holding Grade 1 winner Liaison in second that afternoon, but could not overcome a tedious pace in the Swaps last time, finishing less than a length back of the front-running Blueskiesnrainbows. Corey Nakatani takes over the reins aboard the stalker.