Verrazano wins the Haskell Invitational.
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Verrazano wins the Haskell Invitational.
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Chad B. Harmon

Verrazano, Palace Malice Set for Travers

Orb also preparing for Travers, though Oxbow less likely to start after injury.

While trainer Todd Pletcher concedes it's not an ideal situation, he will point both Palace Malice  and Verrazano  to the $1 million Travers Stakes (gr. I) Aug. 24 at Saratoga Race Course.

Belmont Stakes (gr. I) winner Palace Malice posted a victory in the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) July 27 at Saratoga, while Verrazano won the William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) by a record 9 3/4 lengths the next day at Monmouth Park.

"We're fortunate to have two such outstanding colts," Pletcher said. "You hate to run horses against each other from the same barn, but in this case I think it's the logical place for both horses and both owners. We'll see how they both come back and both train, but right now it certainly looks like they're likely to show up in the Travers."

Pletcher won the Travers with Flower Alley in 2005 and Stay Thirsty  in 2011.

Verrazano returned to Pletcher's Saratoga barn the morning of July 29.

"He shipped back great and looks really good this morning," Pletcher said. "It was a powerful performance."

Before Palace Malice won the Jim Dandy and Verrazano took the Haskell, Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) winner Orb  took another step toward the Travers when he worked a half-mile July 27 at the training center in Fair Hill, Md., in :48 1/5. The work was Orb's fourth since his third-place finish behind  Palace Malice in the Belmont Stakes.

Racing Hall of Fame trainer Shug McGaughey is pleased with the way the Malibu Moon  colt is coming up to the Travers. "It was foggy, so I didn't see too much, but I liked what I did see," he said. "It was very good, and he seemed to come out of it good."

McGaughey was impressed by the weekend performances Palace Malice and Verrazano. "I thought Verrazano ran great," he said. "The races were good."

While the connections of the Derby and Belmont winners continue to point to the Travers, Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Oxbow  is a longshot for the race after pulling up just after the finish in the Haskell. Oxbow emerged from his fourth-place finish in the Haskell with a soft-tissue injury, Racing Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas reported July 29.

"The X-rays were all perfectly clean," Lukas said. "It's what you guys would call an ankle sprain, it looks like. I was more concerned with a condylar (fracture) or something like that but, boy, he had a pretty set of X-rays. It's amazing. For a horse with that many (starts), they were really clean."

Ridden by Racing Hall of Famer Gary Stevens, Oxbow led the Haskell through fractions of :23.90 and :48.22, with six furlongs in 1:12.43 before he dropped back. He managed to hang on for fourth, a head in front of Pick of the Litter.

"He just wasn't traveling comfortably," Lukas said. "Gary overreacted probably a little bit, but the good thing is we X-rayed him from top to bottom and everything's clean. (Stevens) thought at the half-mile that he was starting to get uncomfortable, and he just kind of held him from there."

Lukas was unsure of the timetable for Oxbow's return, leaving his status for the Travers uncertain. Sixth in the Kentucky Derby, he finished second to Palace Malice in the Belmont Stakes.

"You never know," Lukas said. "Horses react differently to different situations. After seeing everything yesterday, I felt comfortable in that I didn't rule out the Travers, but that's probably the reality of it. I would say the fall and looking toward the Breeders' Cup seems reasonable."

Lukas does expect to be represented in the Travers by grade II winner Will Take Charge , who ran second to Palace Malice in the Jim Dandy.