Shackleford is the only member of the 3-year-old class to make it through all three legs of the Triple Crown and come away no worse for the wear. On July 31 at Monmouth Park, the son of Forestry will try to stamp himself as the division leader when he leads a field of eight in the $1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I).
In eight of the past 10 years the Haskell winner has gone on to win a year-end championship, and this year’s edition could produce another. In addition to the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner, the race drew Belmont Stakes (gr. I) victor Ruler On Ice, also looking to vault to the top of the division with a victory.
Locally-based trainer Kelly Breen will saddle Ruler On Ice as well as two-time graded stakes winner Pants On Fire, giving him two solid chances to take his home track’s biggest prize. Also likely to attract much of the betting action is California shipper Coil, who looks to hand Bob Baffert his fifth Haskell title. Coil’s sire, Point Given, gave Baffert his first Haskell victory in 2001. The Hall of Fame trainer won last year’s race with Lookin At Lucky.
The Haskell anchors Monmouth's eight stakes, 14-race Sunday card that includes the Taylor Made Matchmaker (gr. IIIT) and Oceanport (gr. IIIT) stakes. Post time for the Haskell is set for 5:43 p.m. EDT. The race will be shown live on ABC and can be heard live on Horse Racing Radio Network. The winner will receive an automatic berth in the Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I) in November.
Mike Lauffer and Bill Cubbedge’s Shackleford is the 5-2 morning-line favorite and is expected to be among the early leaders, as he was when pressing the pace and winning the May 14 Preakness by a half-length at 12-1. He was on the lead when second in the Florida Derby (gr. I), fourth in the Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I), and last time when fifth in the June 11 Belmont Stakes (gr. I). After the Belmont, Shackleford was given a short break and he has apparently returned full of energy.
Shackleford has breezed three times at Churchill Downs since his breather, the last two bullet works.
“He’s had a grueling year—the Fountain of the Youth, Florida Derby, all three Triple Crowns, and he’s still holding his weight and still looks great,” said trainer Dale Romans. “We gave him a two-week break after the Belmont; sent him to WinStar Farm to freshen up and he seemed to appreciate it. His last two works were spectacular.”
Romans shipped Shackleford to Monmouth on July 27. Regular rider Jesus Castanon will have the mount once again and they will break from post 5. Shackleford has earned $1,501,666 from his eight lifetime starts, which have included three wins.
“We’re not going to take him back at all,” Romans said. “We’ll just let him break running and see how the race sets up for him. If someone wants to set an unrealistic pace then he has no problem sitting off of them, just like in the Preakness.”
If Shackleford doesn’t get the lead, it could be Coil taking them around. The chestnut colt has shown an eagerness for the front in each of his five starts—all of them coming at Hollywood Park—and has drawn the rail this time as the 3-1 morning line second choice.
Coil had a three-race win streak broken in the July 9 Swaps (gr. II) when he took a lead into the stretch only to be caught by a head at the wire in his first try at nine furlongs. Coil has now drawn the rail in four of his six trips to the post.
“I don’t really like the rail, I’ve been stuck on the rail a lot with him lately… but there’s nothing I can do about it,” Baffert said.
Coil, who will be making his first start on dirt, won the Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) in his stakes debut June 11 and appears to be getting better with every race. He arrived at Monmouth on July 28 after recording two bullet works at Del Mar.
“We’re going to find out a lot about him,” Baffert said. “His last race, I’m just going to throw it out. He didn’t really run his race. We’re still trying to figure out his style. But he’s got the blinkers off this time and he’s been working really well. He’s going to run a big race, but this will be more of class test for him.”
Martin Garcia will ride Coil.
Breen is expecting big repeat efforts from Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire, both owned by George and Lori Hall. Ruler On Ice delivered a 24-1 upset in the Belmont Stakes and Pants On Fire returned from the Kentucky Derby to post a decisive victory in the June 18 Pegasus (gr. III) at Monmouth. The stablemates worked together July 24 at Monmouth, firing four furlongs in :47 3/5.
“I couldn’t be happier with how they both went,” Breen said. “They’re ready.”
Pants On Fire took the Louisiana Derby (gr. II) in March. Monmouth’s leading rider, Elvis Trujillo, will pick up the mount from injured Rosie Napravnik. Jose Valdivia Jr. will stay aboard Ruler On Ice, who has hit the board in all five starts this year. Both are pegged at 4-1.
One horse looking to rebound is Stonestreet Stables and George Bolton’s Astrology. The son of A. P. Indy failed to hit the board for the first time in nine starts last out in the June 25 Iowa Derby (gr. III) when sixth as the 1-2 favorite. Winner of the Iroquois (gr. III) as a juvenile, Astrology has also placed in four graded stakes including a third-place effort in the Preakness. Julien Leparoux will ride for trainer Steve Asmussen, who won the Haskell in 2009 with filly Rachel Alexandra.
“He was really consistent until he wasn’t,” Asmussen said. “It was not the race we were expecting from him in Iowa and we need to get back on track in the Haskell.”
Completing the field is Bay Shore (gr. III) winner J J's Lucky Train, who stretches out to nine furlongs for the first time; Concealed Identity, a winner over Ruler On Ice three starts back in the Federico Tesio Stakes; and Illinois Derby (gr. III) winner Joe Vann.
The longest shot on the board, J J's Lucky Train won two of three starts as a juvenile at Monmouth for trainer Bill Anderson. He was runner-up last out in the Woody Stephens (gr. II) at Belmont.
Concealed Identity was also second in his last try, finishing two lengths back of Pants On Fire in the Pegasus.
Joe Vann will try to give Pletcher his third Haskell win. The trainer won in consecutive years with Bluegrass Cat and Any Given Saturday in 2006-07. Joe Bravo, who rides Joe Vann for the first time, will be looking for his second Haskell win. His first came in 2004 aboard Lion Heart.
$1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I, Race 12, 5:43 p.m.), 3YO, 1 1/8 Miles (Dirt) PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, Odds 1. Coil, M Garcia, B Baffert, 3-1
2. Joe Vann, J Bravo, T Pletcher, 15-1
3. Pants On Fire, E Trujillo, K Breen, 4-1
4. Concealed Identity, C DeCarlo, E Gaudet, 12-1
5. Shackleford, J Castanon, D Romans, 5-2
6. Ruler On Ice, J Valdivia Jr., K Breen, 4-1
7. J J's Lucky Train, P Lopez, W Anderson, 20-1
8. Astrology, J Leparoux, S Asmussen, 9-2