The second season for the 3-year-old thoroughbreds begins this weekend, and Sunday's $1-million, 11/8-mile Haskell Invitational will feature more depth and quality than any of the spring classics did.
Kentucky Derby hero Super Saver and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky will have their rubber match at the Jersey Shore, but it would be no shock if neither won. Ice Box and First Dude, second at Churchill Downs and Pimlico, respectively, and rising star Trappe Shot are serious challengers. Consider it the fourth leg of the Triple Crown.
Lookin At Lucky's Hall of Fame trainer, Bob Baffert has won three Haskells, and he's never had so many strong rivals to worry about. "I think this is probably the toughest Haskell I've ever been in," Baffert said. "It's a really great group of horses. Anytime you have the Derby and Preakness winners together, it's great for our industry. This is always a very exciting race, and it's never won by a bad horse."
Elliott Walden is racing manager for WinStar Farm, Super Saver's owner and breeder. "No matter what you did in the Triple Crown," Walden said, "the focus is on what's going to happen Sunday. Lookin at Lucky and Super Saver both won one, so it'll be interesting to see what happens. We want Super Saver to be the 3-year-old champion, and I think the rest of the year is going to decide that. This is a high-quality field, so we're going for the brass ring."
Lookin At Lucky drew the inside post Thursday and was made the 5-2 favorite. Super Saver (post 6) and Trappe Shot (post 8) are next at 3-1. The field of eight from the rail out, with jockeys, weights and odds: Lookin At Lucky, Martin Garcia, 122; Afleet Again, Joe Bravo, 118, 12-1; Ice Box, Jose Lezcano, 120, 9-2; First Dude, Kent Desormeaux, 118, 6-1; Our Dark Knight, Elvis Trujillo, 118, 15-1; Super Saver, Calvin Borel, 122; Uptowncharlybrown, Rajiv Maragh, 118, 15-1; Trappe Shot, Alan Garcia, 118.
In the Preakness, Lookin At Lucky rebounded from his flop in the Derby, in which he was a creditable sixth despite being banged around early and eliminated from contention. After seeing last year's 2-year-old champ work 5 furlongs in 58.60 seconds Monday at Del Mar, Baffert is optimistic he'll run big at Monmouth Park.
"He's a gritty little horse, and he looks great," Baffert said. "He looks like he's in the zone. I'm looking for a big race, and if he gets a clean trip, he'll get the job done."
There was skepticism about Super Saver's perfect-trip Derby in the slop. When he plodded home eighth in the Preakness, the wise guys said, "Told you so." Walden thinks it's bounce-back time.
"He's a very athletic colt with tactical speed, and that should help him at Monmouth," Walden said. "And [trainer] Todd Pletcher said his last workout was the best one he's ever had.
"The Derby is the Derby, and Super Saver was well clear of the field. In the Preakness, he was one of the few horses who had run in the Derby off a three-week layoff. We're looking for the horse that won the Kentucky Derby to show up on Sunday."
Fly Down tops Jim Dandy. Belmont Stakes runner-up Fly Down tops a field of nine in tomorrow's Grade II, 11/8-mile Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. Like the Haskell, it's a final prep for the Grade I Travers Aug. 28 at the Spa.