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Verrazano Heads Field of Seven in Haskell

A field of seven headed by Verrazano and Oxbow will decide the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) at Monmouth Park on Sunday.

Verrazano

Verrazano

Verrazano, an impressive winner of the Pegasus Stakes (G3) at Monmouth Park last out, drew the post position No. 7 and was installed the slight 9-5 favorite by Monmouth oddsmaker Brad Thomas. Oxbow, winner of the Preakness Stakes and second in the Belmont Stakes, goes from post No. 5 and is the 2-1 second choice.

Trainer Bob Baffert will go for an unprecedented seventh Haskell victory – and fourth in a row – with Power Broker, who drew post No. 4 and is third betting choice at 3-1.

The others entered in Sunday’s 46th running of the mile and an eighth Haskell are Golden Soul, second in the Kentucky Derby, Post 3, Robby Albarado, 8-1; Micromanage, winner of the Long Branch at Monmouth in his last start, Post 6, Joe Bravo, 6-1; Vyjack, a  multiple stakes winner earlier this year, Post 1, Paco Lopez, 12-1; and, Pick of the Litter, who exits a third place finish in the Lexington Stakes on April 20, Post 2, Jesus Castanon, 15-1.

This year’s Haskell has a Hall of Fame glow, with two of the trainers and two of the riders members of racing’s shrine in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

D. Wayne Lukas, who trains Oxbow, joined the Hall of Fame in 2007. Lukas will be looking for his second Haskell victory. He saddled Serena’s Song to victory in the 1995 running, and that champion filly is also in racing’s Hall of Fame.

Oxbow will be ridden Sunday by Gary Stevens, who entered the Hall of Fame in 1997. Stevens, who is making a comeback this year after retiring from racing in 2005, rode Horse of the Year Point Given to a Haskell victory in 2001, and was also the rider of Serena’s Song.

Bob Baffert, who entered the Hall in 2009, has his 11th Haskell starter in Power Broker. The trainer has won Monmouth’s greatest race six times – Point Given (2001), War Emblem (2002), Roman Ruler (2005), Lookin at Lucky (2010), Coil (2011) and Paynter (2012).

Verrazano, trained by Lukas protégé and future Hall of Famer (when he hits the 20-year mark) Todd Pletcher, will be ridden by John Velazquez, a 2012 Hall inductee, who won his first Haskell in 2006 aboard Bluegrass Cat for Pletcher.

Verrazano was made the Haskell favorite off his tremendous performance in the Pegasus Stakes here on June 16, when he drew off to win by more than nine lengths for his fifth lifetime win in six starts. The only blemish on the colt’s record was his disappointing 14th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

Bryan Sullivan, a partner in Let’s Go Stable, which owns Verrazano in partnership with Michael Tabor, Mrs. John Magnier and Derrick Smith, was on hand at Thursday’s draw and said the outside post was perfect for the More Than Ready colt.

“We didn’t want to be down inside,” Sullivan said, “and we would have picked the outside post if we had a choice, so we’re happy.”

Sullivan, a Rumson, N.J., resident, said the Kentucky Derby was a lot to ask of a lightly raced colt.

“We threw a lot at him in a short time this year,” he said. “He went from an unraced 2-year-old into the Derby, which is an incredibly tough race.

“But right after the Derby, we drew a circle around the Haskell as our goal, and we used the Pegasus Stakes to get here. That race showed us he likes this track a lot. If he can duplicate that race, we’ll be in good shape on Sunday.”

Gary Stevens, who has ridden Oxbow in his last four starts, including the Preakness victory, said post position was not a concern for the colt.

“The post never seems to matter with him,” Stevens said. “He’s a one-dimensional horse who carries some good speed, and I just try to stay out of his way.

“I’m looking for a big effort from him Sunday,” the rider said. “I talked to Wayne and he’s happy where the horse is right now.”

Baffert changed his mind several times before finally deciding to send Power Broker to Oceanport.

“The horse is in the air right now, so there’s no turning back,” Baffert said from his base in Del Mar, Calif. “I was thinking about some other spots for him, but he worked so well the other day, that I changed my mind and sent him East.

“The Haskell is a very tough race, but I think he deserves a chance. We don’t know how good he is, but this will be a good gauge.”

Baffert said that starting from the middle of the field will be fine, as long as Power Broker gets away cleanly.

“The break is very important,” Baffert said. “If he can break well and get a comfy spot, he’ll be up there with those speed horses.

“Rosie (Napravnik) knows this horse really well, so I’ll let her ride her race.”

“I would expect him to be no more than seven to 10 lengths back early in the race,” Stewart said. “He can make his run from there.

Joe Bravo, who won the Haskell aboard Lion Heart in 2004, said Micromanage showed in the Long Branch that he deserves a chance Sunday.

“We got pushed far out on the clubhouse turn,” Bravo said. “I don’t think I’ve ever been that close to the valet parking lot before. I thought our race was over, but at the three-eighths pole, he tells me, ‘Hey, jock, hang on and let’s go.’

“If he can duplicate that race, we’ll be in good shape Sunday.”

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