Trainer Patrick Biancone confirmed Monday that Chekhov, runner-up last out in the Long Branch Stakes at Monmouth Park, will return to the Jersey Shore Sunday for the $1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I).
"He continues to progress very well," Biancone said from his Saratoga headquarters. "He worked last week and he'll work the day after tomorrow (Wednesday)."
Prior to finishing second in the Long Branch, Chekhov was sixth in the Belmont Stakes (gr. I) and fourth in the Peter Pan (gr. II). He broke his maiden impressively on May 8 at Belmont.Earlier this year, the son of Pulpit from the Vice Regent mare In My Cap faced fellow Haskell starter Papi Chullo in a maiden race at Santa Anita and was fifth in the Sham Stakes, beaten just over a length by eventual Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo.
"He was a late foal (May 19, 2002)," Biancone said. "He's still immature, but he's learning with every race and like I said he's progressing nicely."
Chekhov is slated to ship to Monmouth from his Saratoga headquarters later this week.
Biancone and owners Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith will be looking to win back-to-back Haskells, having won the race with Lion Heart last year. The only owner-trainer combo to win consecutive runnings of the Haskell were The Thoroughbred Corp. and Bob Baffert, who won the race in 2001 with Point Given and 2002 with War Emblem.
Baffert is scheduled to return for this year's Haskell with Fog City Stable's Roman Ruler, the likely starting highweight and favorite for the race.
"He's doing better than he ever has been in his life," said Bob Baffert, who conditions the son of Fusaichi Pegasus .Roman Ruler worked Monday morning at Del Mar, going :58 3/5 for five furlongs, the eighth fastest of 55 works at the distance.
One horse on the fence for the Haskell is Pin Oak Stable's Devilment, who has never been worse than third in seven career starts.
"We haven't made up our minds yet," said trainer Michael Stidham from his Chicago base. "Naturally the timing is the most important thing. Numbers wise, he jumped forward pretty heavily in his last race when he broke the stakes record. We'll decide in the next couple of day."
Devilment captured the Round Table Stakes at Arlington Park last out, posting a two-length victory after encountering trouble down the backstretch. The Round Table was run at the same mile and an eighth distance as Sunday's Haskell.
Others considered likely for the Haskell include Park Avenue Ball, Papi Chullo, Joey P. and Indy Storm.
In addition to Devilment, the list of possibles include Golden Man, Dover Dere, High Limit, Magna Graduate and Palladio.