Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow drew post 5 and was installed as the 2-1 second choice for the $1 million William Hill Haskell Invitational to be run July 28 at Monmouth Park.
A total of seven sophomores entered the 1 ⅛-mile test at the New Jersey oval, including Wood Memorial winner Verrazano, favored at 9-5 off a strong Pegasus Stakes score. Also in the field are Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul and Grade 1 winner Power Broker.
Multiple graded stakes winner Vyjack, entered in the July 27 Jim Dandy at Saratoga Race Course, was named to this race as well with Paco Lopez to ride. A decision on a start in the Jim Dandy or Haskell was expected July 26; the Rudy Rodriguez trainee drew post 1 in the Haskell and 10 -- the far outside -- in the Jim Dandy.
Oxbow, Calumet Farm's 3-year-old son of Awesome Again, finished second in the June 8 Belmont Stakes by 3 ¼ lengths to Palace Malice last time out. He will be ridden by Hall of Fame jockey Gary Stevens, who was aboard for his wire-to-wire Preakness win, and carries high weight of 122 pounds. Hall of Fame trainer D. Wayne Lukas saddled Haskell winner Serena's Song in 1995 with Stevens aboard.
"There's a lot on the line on Sunday for the horse and all involved, so I'm looking for a big effort. Wayne has freshened him up for a good second half of the year campaign."
Let's Go Stable's Verrazano, who entered the Kentucky Derby a perfect 4-for-4 but then ran 14th in the Run for the Roses, aims for the Haskell off an impressive comeback -- a front-running score in Monmouth's June 16 Pegasus Stakes for trainer Todd Pletcher. He drew the far outside and will be ridden by Hall of Famer John Velazquez under 120 pounds. All others carry 118.
The More Than Ready colt, a half brother to graded stakes winner El Padrino, has won five of his six starts, all with Velazquez in the irons.
"We've kind of circled this race, used the Pegasus to get here, and everything's gone smoothly," said Bryan Sullivan of Let's Go. "The Pegasus worked out great he really liked the track a lot so if he can duplicate that kind of race I think we'll be in good shape on Sunday."
Another Hall of Fame conditioner, Bob Baffert, is seeking an unprecedented fourth consecutive Haskell win and his seventh victory overall. Winner of the past three editions with Paynter, Coil, and Lookin at Lucky , he sends out Gary and Mary West's Power Broker, who easily captured the June 8 Easy Goer Stakes at Belmont Park by 3 ¾ lengths and is on a two-race win streak.
"The horse worked really well the other day," said Baffert, who sent the Pulpit colt through five furlongs in 1:01 ⅘ on July 23 at Del Mar. "I know it's going to be a tough race, Verrazano and Oxbow have already proven they're really nice 3-year-olds, so hopefully we'll be able to run with them. I think this horse, the way he's been training, deserves a chance. I don't know how good he is but we're going to get a good gauge here of how good he really is."
As a juvenile, Power Broker notched his greatest win in the Frontrunner Stakes, formerly the Norfolk, at Santa Anita Park. He was fifth in the Grey Goose Breeders' Cup Juvenile, but then his 3-year-old season debut was delayed until the April 6 Santa Anita Derby, where he finished fifth. Jockey Rosie Napravnik comes in to ride Power Broker from post 4 in his fourth start of 2013.
"He has speed and I'm sure he'll be up there close with those horses," Baffert said. "I'll let Rosie ride her race. She knows the horse really well, she knows what he likes and what he doesnt like. He's been training well and it's going to be a good class check for him. I think he deserves the chance. We could have easily gone to West Virginia [for the Grade 2 West Virginia Derby Aug. 3] but the way he worked the other day, if he could run first or second it would be worth the trip."
Trainer Dallas Stewart will be represented by his first Haskell starter in Golden Soul. Charles Fipke's homebred son of Perfect Soul was a hard-charging second to Orb in the Kentucky Derby and will be making his first start since running ninth in the Belmont.
"He's pretty much a come-from-behind horse, so I don't think the post position is a factor," said Stewart, whose runner will break from the 3 hole under Robby Albarado. "He should be okay. At Monmouth it's kind of a speed-favoring type racetrack as everybody knows, so I wouldn't want to be more than seven to 10 lengths back, somewhere in there.
"His worktab has been solid, his weight has been solid, everything looks good. He looks great, like he's ready to run a big race. Just the way he looks, I'm very happy with him. He wasn't even 3 when he ran in the Derby, he's a May 14 foal, so with age he should be getting better."
Micromanage, Repole Stable's solid winner of the July 7 Long Branch Stakes, seeks his first graded win for Pletcher. The Medaglia d'Oro colt was runner-up to Power Broker by 3 3/4 lengths in the Easy Goer, but is 2-for-2 at Monmouth where he started his season with a determined May 11 allowance score. Jersey ace Joe Bravo gets the mount from post 6.
Crossed Sabres Farm's Pick of the Litter will come back off a layup to target this spot for trainer Dale Romans. The Kitten's Joy colt ran third in the April 20 Coolmore Lexington Stakes over the Keeneland Polytrack in his last start; he won a Feb. 27 maiden event by 7 ½ lengths second time out going 1 ⅛ miles at Gulfstream Park, but ran sixth in the Besilu Stables Florida Derby before the Lexington.
"He had a strained gluteal muscle so we had to give him time; he never missed training but we had to back off of him," Romans said. "He's come along well. It's either an '[allowance] other than' or the Haskell, and there's a lot of money in the Haskell. It's a short field and he's been training so well in the past few weeks, so I thought why waste the opportunity? He'll come down Saturday from Saratoga and I'll be there. I love Haskell day, I think it's one of the best days we have in summer racing."