Not only is $1 million on the line in Sunday’s Resorts Casino Hotel Haskell Invitational, but perhaps an Eclipse Award for champion 3-year-old come year’s end. At least that’s what trainers Dale Romans and Kelly Breen are hoping for following Sunday’s Grade 1 contest.
“I think we’re all even,” said Romans referring to this year’s 3-year-old crop. “If Ruler On Ice or our horse wins they’d have to be considered in the lead for 3-year-old honors.”
Preakness winner Shackleford, who is expected to arrive at the Jersey Shore Tuesday evening, provided conditioner Dale Romans with two bullet moves in his final preparations for New Jersey’s biggest race. On July 17, Shackleford went five furlongs in :59 3/5 and came back one week later to go the same distance in :59 1/5. Both works were over a fast Churchill Downs surface.
“His last two works were phenomenal,” Romans said. “He didn’t move a muscle in his last work. He did everything on his own and was full of energy afterwards.”
Romans, who saddled his first Haskell starter last year in third-place finisher First Dude, will be on-track to saddle Shackleford in Sunday’s mile and an eighth race.
Trainer Kelly Breen has his one-two combo of “Fire” and “Ice” ready for Sunday’s race as he hopes to capture his first Haskell, having finished second with his only other starter, Praying for Cash in 2006. Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire had their final tune-ups in company on Sunday afternoon between races at Monmouth, going a half-mile in :47 3/5.
Pants On Fire, who enters the Resorts Casino Hotel Haskell off a victory in the Grade 3 Pegasus on June 18, looks to score his first Grade 1 on Sunday.
“He’s doing so well,” Breen said. “His work was absolutely perfect.”
Pants On Fire captured the Louisiana Derby (G2) before a ninth-place finish as the 8-1 second choice in the Kentucky Derby. A win by Pants On Fire in the Haskell could give Breen two contenders for championship honors.
“I think Animal Kingdom is a great horse and I think Shackleford is a great horse,” Breen said. “But it’s the upcoming races that are going to decide it.”
Ruler On Ice, who enters the Haskell off his Classic win in the Belmont, equally impressed his trainer in Sunday’s half-mile drill.
“I couldn’t be happier with how they both went,” Breen said. “They’re ready.”
The past four runnings of the Resorts Casino Hotel Haskell has produced five champions: Curlin, Big Brown, Rachel Alexandra, Summer Bird and Lookin At Lucky.