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$1 Million Resorts Casino Hotel Haskell Invitational Provides Stepping-Stone To A Championship At Monmouth Park On Sunday

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OCEANPORT, N.J. – Potential champions hold the spotlight here Sunday as the $1 million Resorts Casino Hotel Haskell Invitational (G1) tops one of the most competitive days of racing ever offered at Monmouth Park.

            The Haskell, which has produced seven of the last 10 3-year-old champs plus Horse of the Year 2009 Rachel Alexandra, drew a field of eight, including Classic winners Shackleford (Preakness) and Ruler On Ice (Belmont Stakes).

            In addition to the winner’s share of the purse, the 44th running of the mile and an eighth Haskell offers the victor a “Win and You’re In” prize, guaranteeing a starting berth in the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic on Nov. 5.

            The Haskell heads a card of 14 races on Sunday, and is the richest of eight stakes events to be run during the afternoon. As an indication of how highly competitive the afternoon is likely to be, Sunday’s card has drawn the winners of 33 graded stakes races, including the winners of four Grade 1 and eight Grade 2 events.

Post time for the Haskell, which goes as the 12th event on the program, is 5:43 p.m., and the race will be televised live over the ABC-TV network from 5-6 p.m. The entire Sunday card will be televised live on TVG.

            Monmouth’s gates will open at 10 a.m. on Sunday, with the first race set to go off at 12 noon. The first stakes race, the $100,000 Regret, is scheduled as the fifth race. It will be followed by the $100,000 Jersey Derby (6th race), $100,000 Majestic Light (7th race), $100,000 Lady’s Secret (8th race), $200,000 Oceanport (9th race), $100,000 Teddy Drone (10th race) and $200,000 Taylor Made Matchmaker (11th race).

            The Oceanport, run for the 65th time, and the Taylor Made Matchmaker, having its 45th renewal, are both Grade 3 events on the turf, and both drew quality fields of 11 horses.

            The day’s betting program will include a 50-cent Pick 5 on races 6 through 10 with a guaranteed pool of $100,000, and a 50-cent late Pick 4 on races 11 through 14, which offers a guaranteed pool of $250,000.

            Admission to Monmouth on Haskell Day will be $5 for the Grandstand and $8 for the Clubhouse, with seniors (55 years and older) admitted to the Grandstand for $3 and to the Clubhouse for $5. Children 12 and under are free.

            All paid admissions on Sunday will receive a free 2011 Haskell cap while supplies last.

            In addition, all military personnel, in uniform or with military ID, will be admitted free and will receive a free cap.

            The members of this year’s Haskell field can take a big step to securing year-end honors. As winners of one Triple Crown leg each, Shackleford and Ruler On Ice are the current divisional leaders in the absence of Animal Kingdom, the Derby winner who is out for the season.

            Monmouth-based Kelly Breen trains Ruler On Ice, and will also send out Pants On Fire in the colors of Rumson residents George and Lori Hall. Ruler On Ice, who will be ridden by Jose Valdivia Jr., finished nearly eight lengths in front of Shackleford in the Belmont Stakes. The mile and a half classic was the first stakes win ever for Ruler On Ice.

            Pants On Fire won the Grade 2 Louisiana Derby in the spring, but ran ninth in the Kentucky Derby when he bled. The homebred colt prepped for the Haskell with a smart victory in the Pegasus Stakes (G3) here in June.

            Shackleford is the only horse in the Haskell field who competed in all three Triple Crown races. The Dale Romans-trained colt was fourth in the Kentucky Derby after setting most of the pace, won the Preakness by a half-length over Animal Kingdom, and then tired to be fifth in the Belmont behind Ruler On Ice.

            Bob Baffert, who has won a record four runnings of the Haskell, goes after a fifth with the late-developing colt Coil. The son of 2001 Haskell winner Point Given won the Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes in his fourth career start, and last out was second by a head in the Grade 2 Swaps at Hollywood Park.

            Coil, who will be making his dirt track debut, will have blinkers off for the Haskell.

            Astrology will be looking for his first win of the year in the Haskell. The A.P. Indy colt finished third in the Preakness, but ran poorly in the Iowa Derby last out when he was sixth. Astrology is trained by Steve Asmussen, who sent out Rachel Alexandra to win the 2009 Haskell en route to Horse of the Year honors.

            Concealed Identity, trained by Eddie Gaudet, made his first start outside Maryland in the Pegasus Stakes here on June 11 and finished a fast-closing second to Pants On Fire. He’ll be ridden again by Chris DeCarlo, who began his riding career with a victory in the 1986 Haskell aboard Wise Times.

            Todd Pletcher, who has two Haskell wins (Bluegrass Cat in 2006 and Any Given Saturday in 2007), sends out Joe Vann, with Monmouth favorite Joe Bravo aboard. Joe Vann won the Illinois Derby (G3) in April.

            Bravo, 13 times Monmouth’s leading jockey, won his first Haskell in 2004 aboard Lion Heart.

            The longshot in the field is J J’s Lucky Train, who will be stretching out to nine furlongs for the first time. However, the Bill Anderson-trained colt has scored two wins in three starts at Monmouth, including his maiden score last year.