Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith's Lion Heart, the 121-pound starting highweight for the Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I), drew post 4 on Thursday for Sunday's race. He was quickly installed the 9-5 favorite for the $1-million Haskell, Monmouth Park's signature race of the season. Mercedes Stables and Madeleine Paulson's Rock Hard Ten, the 2-1 second choice, drew post 5.
Nine 3-year-olds passed the entry box for the 1 1/8 miles race, but one entrant, Pollard's Vision, may be headed to the West Virginia Derby (gr. III) run the same afternoon at Mountaineer Park. The West Virginia Derby purse is $600,000.
The 37th running Haskell, with a post time of 6:20 p.m. EDT, will be televised nationally on ESPN2 from 6-7 p.m. The broadcast will also show the Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) from Saratoga on tape delay.
"Anyplace in the middle is good," said Patrick Biancone, trainer of Lion Heart, about the draw at a press conference. "No complaints."
Lion Heart, a cat-quick son of Tale of the Cat, comes into the Haskell with a win over the local surface, a head victory over My Snookie's Boy in the 1 1/16-miles Long Branch Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) on July 17. In that race he came from off the early pace.
"We know he can handle the track," Biancone said. "Monmouth had the perfect prep at the right time for the Haskell."
Lion Heart, bred in Kentucky by Sabine Stable, is the most accomplished horse the field. He won the Hollywood Futurity (gr. I) last December, then ran solid seconds in the San Rafael (gr. II), Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I), and the Kentucky Derby (gr. I). He ran fourth in the Preakness Stakes (gr. I) prior to the Long Branch.
Joe Bravo, a nine-time leading rider at Monmouth, rode him in the Long Branch and will be aboard again on Sunday.
"He's a really fast horse, but he showed in his last race he can sit off the pace if he has too," Bravo said of Lion Heart. "I've been second in this race three times and it is the 'Kentucky Derby' for New Jersey. I'm happy to be sitting on a good horse."
Lion Heart will ship to Monmouth the morning of the race, according to Biancone.
My Snookie's Boy was surprisingly game in the Long Branch under Stewart Elliot. Trainer Allen Iwinski claimed the son of Crafty Friend
for $50,000 for Preferred Pals Stable on April 1 at Gulfstream Park. Prior to the Long Branch, the Kentucky-bred colt won a local two-turn allowance race by 7 1/2 lengths.
"I watched him run several times before I claimed him," Iwinski said. "He didn't really impress me until he went around two turns.
"I'm happy the horse is coming in at the top of his game," he said. "He did run very, very hard against Lion Heart last time. But since then, he breezed well--may even went a little too fast than I wanted him too--but after the work, he licked his feed tub clean. We'll see what happens. It's a big, big race. We're the underdog here."
My Snookie's Boy, 12-1 in the Long Branch, has been pegged at 8-1 on the morning line for the Haskell. At 116 pounds, he'll get a four-pound shift in his favor from Lion Heart this time. In the Long Branch Lion Heart only carried 116.
West Coast invader Rock Hard Ten deserves his 2-1 second billing in the Haskell off his runner-up effort behind Smarty Jones in the Preakness and recent 3 3/4-length romp in the nine-furlong Swaps Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. II) at Hollywood Park. The over-sized son of the late Kris S. "is very athletic for a big horse," according to trainer Jason Orman.
"He came out of the Swaps in good order and worked in :58 and two," he said. "He's starting to mature and is improving."
Taking the worst of the draw was Swingforthefences. Klaravich Stables' son of Boston Harbor, coming of his first stakes win in the $250,000 Iowa Derby on July 2, will break from the outside under Shaun Bridgmohan.
"I'm not thrilled about it to be honest with you," trainer Rick Violette said of the draw. "My horse has tactical speed, and he might get pushed out into the middle of the track. But we'll deal with it."
Violette said Swingforthefences would ship from Saratoga in the middle of the night and get to the track around 6-7 in the morning.
As usual, Monmouth Park is expected a large crowd for the 14-race card Sunday afternoon. They have introduced a new, signature drink for the Haskell, the "Summer Wind," a lime-flavored vodka-based drink. Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" will be played as the horses come onto the track for the race.Haskell Invitational Handicap (gr. I), Monmouth Park, $1,000,000, 1 1/8 miles, 3-year-olds, Sunday, Aug. 8, post time: 6:20 p.m. EDT
PP-- Horse, Wgt., Jockey, ML
1-- My Snookie's Boy, 116, Stewart Elliot, 8-1
2-- Pies Prospect, 116, Chuck C. Lopez, 15-1
3-- Royal Assault, 117, Pat Day, 6-1
4-- Lion Heart, 121, Joe Bravo, 9-5
5-- Rock Hard Ten, 120, Corey Nakatani, 2-1
6-- Wimplestiltskin, 116, Eibar Coa, 20-1
7-- Tap Day, 116, Jose Velez Jr., 20-1
8-- Pollard's Vision, 118, Eibar Coa, 5-1
9-- Swingforthefences, 118, Shaun Bridgmohan, 12-1