Eclipse Push Starts Now
THE PUSH FOR THE ECLIPSE STARTS NOW
The second half of the racing season for 3-year-old males jumps into full flight with Saturday’s $500,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga and Sunday’s $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
And as the battle to win an Eclipse Award heats up, “Fire and Ice” are taking center stage: Belmont Stakes winner Ruler On Ice and Louisiana Derby victor Pants On Fire.
Both will run in the 1 1/8-mile Resorts Casino & Hotel Haskell, as trainer Kelly Breen and owners George and Lori Hall opt to have two chances to win one race rather than splitting up the colts.
One factor is that the Halls’ horses are stabled at Monmouth, but a greater consideration is that the Haskell is a Grade I race and double the money of the Grade II Jim Dandy.
Breen said that with “a Grade I in our backyard … if there’s ever a chance maybe in my lifetime to have a Horse of the Year,” it’s this year, with not only a wide-open 3-year-old division, but also no super horse in the older division.
The Haskell has produced the 3-year-old champion seven of the past 10 years, plus a 3-year-old filly champion in Rachel Alexandra. Three of those, including Rachel, also were Horse of the Year.
Despite skipping the Jim Dandy, Breen does have an eye on Saratoga later this month, hoping both horses run well enough Sunday to stay on course for the Aug. 27 Travers Stakes, also a $1 million, Grade I event.
“A lot of different thoughts went into the process with George and Lori Hall,” Breen said on a national conference call Tuesday. “(Including) thinking about what’s our best option of possibly having one or the other jump up and maybe be Horse of the Year if he could win this race and the Travers.”
Breen said he can’t pick between his horses in the Haskell, where the anticipated field of eight will include Churchill Downs-based Preakness winner Shackleford.
“They’re both training that well,” Breen said. “I’d personally rather have two shots at it than just one. … Any race is so hard to win. Nothing comes easy.”
Pants On Fire gave Breen his first $1 million win, this year’s Grade II Louisiana Derby, but he bled in the Kentucky Derby when finishing ninth. He rebounded to capture Monmouth’s Grade III Pegasus Stakes.
With Rosie Napravnik injured, Monmouth leading rider Elvis Trujillo picks up the mount in the Haskell.
The Pegasus came one week after Ruler On Ice gave Breen and the Halls their first Grade I victory, let alone their first in a Triple Crown race. Ruler On Ice had won only an allowance race, finished third in the Sunland Derby and run second as the favorite in Pimlico’s Federico Tesio.
With three different winners of the Triple Crown races — and Derby winner Animal Kingdom sidelined for the year with a leg fracture — the 3-year-old championship remains very much up for grabs. Ruler On Ice and Shackleford will vie to become the first two-time Grade I winners of the year.
“These next two races are pivotal,” Breen said.
Said Dale Romans, Shackleford’s trainer: “I think we’re all even right now. I think Animal Kingdom is up against it if one of us goes on and wins another Grade I. I think if Ruler On Ice or our horse wins this race, then they have to be considered in the lead.”
The Halls will donate a portion of their horses’ Haskell earnings to ReRun, the thoroughbred adoption organization and aftercare program for Monmouth Park.
The last Monmouth-based horse to win the Haskell was Skip Away in 1996.
The Jim Dandy will be broadcast on Versus at 5 p.m. Saturday, with the Haskell on ABC at 5 p.m. Sunday. The Haskell is a “Win and You’re In” race in the Breeders’ Cup Challenge series, meaning its winner gets his Classic entry fees picked up and a $10,000 travel stipend.
by Jennie Rees