The jockey, the trainer, and the owner will all be very familiar, but a new name, Handsome Mike, will be representing the team of Doug O’Neill, Paul Reddam, and Mario Gutierrez in the $1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I) at Monmouth Park July 29.
Gutierrez, who piloted the O’Neill-trained and Reddam-owned I'll Have Another to victories in the grade I Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands, Preakness, and Santa Anita Derby, will be aboard Handsome Mike for the first time.
The son of Scat Daddy –Classic Strike, by Smart Strike , finished second in the Generous Stakes (gr. IIIT) on grass last year and third in this year’s El Camino Real Derby (gr. III). He hasn’t run since his fourth-place finish in the Vinery Racing Spiral Stakes (gr. III) March 24.
The decision to run the colt in the Haskell came after a sharp six-furlong work in a bullet 1:11 4/5 at
"It was a great, great work. He’s fantastic," said O’Neill. "Handsome Mike is a very versatile colt. He’s got speed and he’s also got the ability to track if need be. I expect him to run very well. Both Mario and Handsome Mike are ready and raring to go. We are really looking forward to this race at Monmouth."
In other Haskell news, Hall of Fame trainer Jerry Hollendorfer confirmed that Affirmed Handicap (gr. III) winner and Swaps Stakes (gr. II) runner-up Nonios will also be in the starting gate for the 45th edition of the Haskell.
The son of Pleasantly Perfect earned a triple digit Beyer speed figure in the Swaps, losing by three-quarters of a length to the Bob Baffert-trained Blueskiesnrainbows, who led from gate to wire. Baffert, who has won five Haskells, will saddle Belmont Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Paynter in the 1 1/8-mile event.
Considered as possibilities at this point are last year’s champion 2-year-old Hansen, winner of the recent Iowa Derby (gr. III); Gemologist , winner of the Resorts World Casino New York City Wood Memorial (gr. I); Long Branch (gr. III) winner My Adonis; and Matt Winn runner-up Stealcase.
Gemologist, who hasn’t raced since finishing 16th in the Kentucky Derby, turned in a bullet five-furlong work in :58 2/5 at Saratoga Race Course July 22, the fastest of 43 works on the tab.
"He worked super. It was a very impressive work," Pletcher said of the WinStar colt. "He finished up great, galloped out well, and recovered quickly afterward. I think his conditioning is very, very good. I thought he breezed as well this morning as he’s ever breezed. He’s always been a good work horse, but he was exceptionally good this morning."
It was the second straight bullet work for the Tiznow colt. Gemologist has been on the sidelines since a foot bruise was discovered two days after the Derby.
"He hasn’t run since the Derby, so we wanted to make sure we were tight," Pletcher said. "He’s really had a very good, progressive work tab. Each one’s been progressively stronger."
Pletcher still hasn’t decided whether to run the colt in the Haskell or Jim Dandy (gr. II) the same weekend.
"It’s the same thing that goes into every racing decision; where you think you have the best chance to win," Pletcher said. "We are considering entering both spots, but we might make a decision prior to that."