When it comes to Monmouth Park’s premier summer race, trainer Bob Baffert is no stranger to the winner’s circle.
On Sunday, Baffert will try for an unprecedented fourth win in Monmouth’s Grade 1, $1 million IZOD Haskell Invitational with Karl Watson, Michael E. Pegram and Paul Weitman’s Preakness hero Lookin at Lucky.
Last year’s Champion 2-Year-Old is scheduled to arrive on the Jersey Shore Thursday afternoon following his final pre-Haskell work on Monday morning at Del Mar.
“He worked very well yesterday,” Baffert said referring to a bullet five furlong move in :58 3/5. “He looks like he’s ready for a big race. It’s not an easy spot, but from here on out none of them are easy.”
Following a juvenile campaign that saw him win a trio of Grade 1 races en route to capturing an Eclipse Award as the nation’s best 2-year-old colt, Lookin at Lucky shipped to Oaklawn Park to take the Grade 2 Rebel in his 2010 and dirt debut.
The son of Smart Strike then shipped back to California and finished a troubled third in the Grade 1 Santa Anita Derby before running sixth in the Kentucky Derby as the favorite.
Two weeks later, Lookin at Lucky returned to the winner’s circle in the Preakness, finishing ahead of fellow Haskell contenders First Dude and Super Saver.
Baffert, who has won the Haskell with Roman Ruler (2005), War Emblem (2002), and Point Given (2001), says Sunday’s race is one of the deepest Haskell fields he’s ever seen.
“I think it’s probably the toughest of all the Haskell’s that I’ve been in,” said Baffert, who on Sunday will attempt to become the first trainer to ever saddle four Haskell winners. “I’ve always had a lot of success at Monmouth and I like going where I’ve had a lot of success. The fans really get into it that day. There should be a huge crowd that day with the group of horses they’ve assembled.”
In addition to Lookin at Lucky, the field for the IZOD Haskell is also expected to include Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver, Derby runner-up Ice Box, Preakness runner-up First Dude, Long Branch Stakes winner Trappe Shot, Withers champion Afleet Again, Pasco Stakes winner Uptowncharlybrown and recent allowance winner Our Dark Knight.
“We’re all in the business to see who has the best horse,” Baffert said. “When you can beat them it makes it even better. Everyone in the race thinks they have the best horse.”