On the eve of their battle in Sunday's Grade 1, $1 million Haskell
Invitational, the six contenders put the finishing touches on their preparation
with routine exercise Saturday morning.
At Monmouth, Paynter went out before the renovation break for a gallop of 1 3/8 miles under exercise rider Juan Pisaro. Jimmy Barnes, the assistant to five-time Haskell winning-trainer Bob Baffert, said that everything is right on schedule for the Belmont Stakes runner-up.
Rafael Bejarano, now riding first call for the stable, will pilot the 3-2 morning line favorite for the first time."Rafael has been on him numerous times for his works, and he knows him well," Barnes said. "He doesn't necessarily have to have the lead. In a small field like this, he'll play the breaks and see what happens. Once I give Rafael the leg up, it's up to him."
Barnes added that turning back from the 1 1/2-mile distance of the Belmont to the 1 1/8-mile trip in the Haskell will be to the colt's benefit.
Paynter, who schooled in the paddock Friday, will walk on Sunday. The son of Awesome Again is housed in the barn of Kelly Breen.
Dullahan went out after the break for a gallop of 1 1/4 miles under exercise
rider Faustino Augilar for trainer Dale Romans.
The only dual Grade 1 winner in the field scored both of those victories over Keeneland's Polytrack, and is looking for his first win on dirt. The chestnut son of Even the Score, a half-brother to 2009 Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird, looked impressive as he bounced over the racing strip.
Named for a headless harbinger of death in Irish folklore, his name has been pronounced, and mispronounced, in a variety of ways.
"The correct way to say it is 'DUH-la-hahn," said Jerry Crawford, the managing partner for owner Donegal Racing, who said he will arrive in New Jersey with a contingent of supporters on Saturday night.
"I mispronounced it as 'DOOL-a-han' for a year. Then, before he ran in the (Kentucky) Derby, I started getting phone calls and e-mails from Ireland. They said, 'Hey, pal, if you want to be Irish, you've got to learn how to say it right.' We're all very excited about this race."
Romans, who will arrive on Sunday after saddling Tapitsfly in the Grade 1 Diana at Saratoga on Saturday, said that the Kentucky Derby third-place finisher will walk on Sunday.
Nonios has been generating buzz on the backside since he arrived from California. The Grade 3 Affirmed Handicap winner jogged to the paddock and walked through it, stood in the gate, and galloped 1 1/2 miles under trainer Jerry Hollendorfer's regular East Coast exercise rider Abel Flores. He was to school in the paddock before the 3RD race for the second straight day.
"He hasn't done a thing wrong since he got off the plane," said Christina
Jelm, the racing manager for owner G.B. Smith Jr. "He's a classy horse."
In five career starts with three wins, one second and a third, Nonios has only competed on artificial surfaces. In the mornings, he has signaled he'll like Monmouth's main track just fine. "
The exercise rider said he had good footing and was comfortable on it," Jelm said. "In the past, he worked bullets on the dirt at Pleasanton. Provided that everything sets up right in the race, I expect him to run very well."
Handsome Mike, representing the team of trainer Doug O'Neill, owner J. Paul Reddam and jockey Mario Gutierrez which won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes with I'll Have Another, galloped one mile under exercise rider Jesus Gomez.
In seven starts, the son of hot young sire Scat Daddy has only raced on dirt once and finished fourth at Santa Anita in the Grade 3 Sham Stakes.
"He really likes the track here and is handling it great," said Sabaf Rivera, who is watching over him until O'Neill checks in on Sunday.
"He's been eating good and nothing bothers him. We're hoping that he breaks good tomorrow, we get a little bit of racing luck, and he runs good."
Handsome Mike, who is stabled in Breen's barn, will go out on to the track to stretch his legs on Sunday.
The remaining two Haskell entrants, Gemologist and Stealcase, stretched their legs at their Saratoga base. Both will take a ride down to Monmouth on Sunday morning.
Gemologist galloped 1 1/4 miles under exercise rider Hector Ramos for two-time Haskell-winning trainer Todd Pletcher.
The Grade 1 Wood Memorial winner, who was undefeated before bruising his foot last out in the Kentucky Derby, is the 3-1 co-second choice with Dullahan. Javier Castellano has ridden the son of Tiznow in every one of his starts and sticks with him on Sunday.
"Gemologist is a very good horse and he is training extremely well," Pletcher said. "We are expecting a big effort from him tomorrow."
Stealcase galloped 1 1/2 miles, and the multiple Grade 3-placed son of Lawyer Ron continues to please trainer Mark Casse.
"He's wild and ready to go," Casse said of the under-the-radar colt looking for his first stakes win.
"He most definitely is being overlooked," Casse said. "I might be wrong, but I think that if he stays out of trouble and gets a good pace, he's going to be very competitive.
"He already showed he's got ability when Paynter just beat him in the (Grade 3) Derby Trial. He is an underachiever but if he puts it all together, he's going to show what he can do and I hope that's tomorrow."
The Haskell Day card will get underway at noon (EDT), with gates opening at 10 a.m.
There will be a $250,000 guaranteed Pick 4 (the 10TH-13TH races) on Haskell Day and a $100,000 guaranteed Pick 5 (the 6TH-10TH races). There will also be a Place Pick 6 (races 4-9). The Haskell is slated as the 13th race on a 14-race program with an estimated post of 6:17 p.m.
Up to the minute Haskell Invitational information will be available via Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms from now until after the race.
Fans can follow track announcer Larry Collmus on Twitter at @larrycollmus and Monmouth handicapper Brad Thomas will tweet through his account, @bradshadesoff. The Monmouth Park Facebook page is accessible here.