Although jockey Richard Migliore has pretty much committed to riding Iron Deputy in Sunday's $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga, trainer Nancy Alberts is still hoping Migliore will somehow wind up back on Magic Weisner in the $1 million Haskell Invitational Handicap on the same day.
Migliore, despite having ridden Magic Weisner to victory in the Ohio Derby and finishing a fast-closing second to War Emblem in the Preakness Stakes, has decided to stick with Iron Deputy. Migliore, who has ridden Iron Deputy to three victories in four career starts, says he has worked closely with the colt, who has not started since his victory in the Jan. 5 Count Fleet Stakes at Aqueduct.
"I wish Richie would stay on my horse," Alberts said Wednesday on a national teleconference. "I know he'd love to."
Alberts said she will wait until Thursday before officially making a jockey change. If she is forced to do so, Magic Weisner's new rider will be Mike Luzzi, who scored the biggest victory of his career on July 20 when he guided Jilbab to a 1 1/2-length score in the Coaching Club American Oaks.
"I know Michael, and I asked Richie to see if he was interested in backing him up," Alberts said. "Michael said he'd love to. He was already in New York, and he subbed for Richie when he came to Ohio (to ride Magic Weisner). If Richie can't ride my horse, I won't be too worried, because he's such an easy horse to ride. All we need is racing luck."
Alberts was hoping to see more speed in the Haskell, but will make the same adjustments she did in the Ohio Derby, when Magic Weisner raced closer to the pace than normal because of the small field and the presence of only one speed horse (Wiseman's Ferry).
"We'll probably have to do the same thing," she said, "because Monmouth is a speed-favoring track. But I'd love another chance at War Emblem. I think my horse is improving, and I was very impressed with the way he bounced out of the Ohio Derby. He never acted tired and didn't miss any food."
Magic Weisner is scheduled to van up to Monmouth on Thursday, while War Emblem ships to New Jersey on Wednesday. With the newest additions to the field – Arlington Classic winner Mr. Mellon and Calder stakes winner Island Skipper – it brings the prospective field up to six. The other starters are Swaps runner-up Like a Hero and Long Branch winner Puck, who is the only one currently stabled at Monmouth.
On the Jim Dandy front, Belmont runner-up Medaglia d'Oro will be the solid favorite in a field that could consist of Quest and Nothing Flat from the Nick Zito stable, Iron Deputy, Easyfromtehgitgo, Essence of Dubai, Stephentown, and Gold Dollar. Gygistar and Fisher Pond are possibles.
Frankel had toyed with the idea of running in the Haskell if War emblem had stayed away, but has now committed the colt to the Jim Dandy. "This way I don't have to ship, and the ultimate goal is to win the Travers," Frankel said on the teleconference. "Not shipping and getting a race over the track can't hurt. I'm trying to win the Jim Dandy, but I'm not going to kill him to do it."
Frankel should be busy as usual over the next month, with Lido Palace running in Saturday's Whitney Handicap, You possibly going in the Alabama, Beat Hollow heading for the Arlington Million, Denon pointing for the Sword Dancer, and Tates Creek running in the Beverly D. And those are just a few of his big horses. Frankel said if he is to have a starter in the Pacific Classic it would be Euchre, who will get blinkers for the San Diego Handicap. "Milwaukee Brew just doesn't fit Del Mar," Frankel said. "So, if I have to miss the Pacific Classic, I'll miss it. Frankel also said last year's Breeders' Cup Sprint winner Squirtle Squirt will ship to Saratoga and look for a race at the end of the meet. He'll then have one more start before a return crack at the Sprint.
As the field for the Haskell began to assemble at Monmouth Park Wednesday, the only horse on the grounds gave further evidence that he loves the local oval.
Classic Contenders' Puck, winner of the Long Branch Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Monmouth on July 13, had his final Haskell blowout Wednesday morning when he breezed a half-mile in :48 2/5, with steady splits of :12 2/5, :12, :12, and :12.
"He was on cruise control," said Juan Duarte Arias, assistant to trainer Bill White and exercise rider for the gray colt. "He can do 12's all day when he's going like that."
Work watchers agreed with that assessment. Monmouth clocker Tyrone Artis said, "The rider was standing up all the way. He could have worked in :46 or better if he wanted."
"He would have gone :45, :44 if I asked," Arias said. "But Bill wanted him to do a half in about :49, so that's what I tried to do. I couldn't hold him back much more than I did. I had him out in the middle of the track and he went as slow as he could.
"He came back fine and cooled out perfectly," Arias said. "I don't care who else is coming, he's ready for anything."
White, vacationing with his family in the Florida Keys, said, "Juan was really enthusiastic about the work. He has a great sense of pace and told me the horse could have done much more.
"The way he worked," White said, "indicates to me he's really good right now."
He will carry 117 pounds in the Haskell, with Cornelio Velasquez back aboard. White is due at Monmouth on Saturday afternoon.
Puck has become the "local" horse because he's been on the Monmouth grounds ever since he won the Long Branch three weeks ago. He's been stabled in the John Forbes barn, where Arias' brother, Gus Duarte, is an assistant. Juan uses his full name, Juan Duarte Arias and rode under the name Juan Arias. Brother Gus uses Duarte as his last name.
Juan is not related to trainer Juan Arias, who saddled Canonero II to win the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes in 1971.
With entries closing Thursday, a field of at least seven is in prospect for the Haskell. The Thoroughbred Corp's War Emblem, topweight at 124 pounds, was due in Wednesday afternoon after a flight from California. He will be ridden by Victor Espinoza.
Also expected are Nancy Alberts' Magic Weisner, 118, Richard Migliore; Winstar Farm and Thomas Van Meter's Mr. Mellon, 118, Pat Day; Columbine Stable's Like a Hero, 115, Laffit Pincay Jr.; Golden Age Stable's Island Skipper, 114, Jose A. Rivera 2nd, and Diane and Guy Snowden's Peekskill, 114, Jose Santos. Cassels & Zollars' Easyfromthegitgo, 116, remains a possibility.