Horse racing's summer season is underway with three-year-old stakes action in Saratoga Springs, New York and Oceanport, New Jersey. That's a far cry from Louisville, Kentucky, but many of the horses running in this weekend's featured stakes races at Saratoga Race Course in New York and Monmouth Park in New Jersey became household names the first week in May when all eyes centered on Louisville for the Kentucky Derby.
We'll have to wait to see Kentucky Derby winner Orb make his summer return. After a freshening at Fair Hill Equine Therapy Center in Maryland, he's begun working toward a run in the Grade 1 Travers Stakes (Saratoga Aug. 24).
The Preakness winner and sixth-place Kentucky Derby finisher, Oxbow, will go after the Grade 1 William Hill Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Sunday. Palace Malice, who set a blazing pace early in the Kentucky Derby only to finish 12th, but redeemed himself and his sire, Curlin, when he won the Grade 1 Belmont Stakes in June, will attempt the Grade 2 Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday. An analysis of the Haskell follows. Click here for Jim Dandy analysis .
Installed as the second choice on the morning-line at 2-1 in the seven-horse field for Sunday's Grade 1 $1,000,000 William Hill Haskell is D. Wayne Lukas's Preakness winner, Oxbow. The recently un-retired jockey Gary Stevens and Oxbow took the Preakness in wire-to-wire fashion and had the lead in the Belmont until overtaken by Palace Malice midway through the race. Although he won’t have to worry about Palace Malice,who will be running in the Jim Dandy a day earlier, Oxbow will likely find his greatest challenge in fellow Kentucky Derby contenders Golden Soul and Verrazano.
Verrazano went into Kentucky Derby week as an early favorite, but he exited as a mere also ran, finishing 14th in the field of 20; his undefeated record of four-for-four forgotten. However, the More Than Ready colt gained some redemption when he returned in mid-June to win the Grade 2 Pegasus by 9 ¼ lengths. The sloppy track and crowded field that Verrazano faced in the Kentucky Derby were unkind, but he shouldn’t face either problem on Sunday. He's been installed as the morning-line favorite at odds of 9-5.
Verrazano’s nemesis in the first part of the year also returns from a disappointing Kentucky Derby finish. Rudy Rodriguez’s Vyjack finished 18th, beaten 52 lengths in the Kentucky Derby. He returned in the Belmont and finished 8th, 10 lengths behind winner Palace Malice. Rodriguez entered Vyjack in the Grade 2 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on Saturday, but opted to try him in the Haskell when he drew post 10. Although, the Haskell draw put him in post one, the buzz is that he will run in the Sunday stakes. Vyjack would have to get back to the form he showed in early March to be competitive with this group, but two recent bullet works show that may be a possibility.
Dallas Stewart’s Golden Soul surprised the bettors to close sharply and finish just 2 ½ lengths behind Orb in the Kentucky Derby. His ninth place finish in the Belmont Stakes was disappointing for this grandson of the greats Sadler’s Wells and Mr. Prospector. He’d be a surprise to win the Haskell, but the nearly two months rest since the Belmont should be to his liking and reports from Stewart's barn confirm the horse is ready.
The complete field, from the rail out, is Vyjack, Pick of the Litter, Golden Soul, Power Broker, Oxbow, Micromanage, and Verrazano.
The race is the 13thon Sunday’s Monmouth Park card with a scheduled post time of 6:18 EST. It can be seen on HRTV and TVG.
Photo: Courtesy PreaknessStakes.com/Jim McCue/MJC