Big Brown, who was unbeaten in five races before he was pulled up in the Belmont Stakes on June 7, will try to get back on the right track in this 41st running of the mile and an eighth Haskell, and Monmouth oddsmaker Brad Thomas has made him the 1-2 morning line favorite to resume his winning ways.
Trainer Rick Dutrow Jr. named Kent Desormeaux to ride Big Brown again in the Haskell.
The complete Haskell field consists of Paraneck Stable’s Magical Forest, Post 1, Jorge Chavez, 10-1; Robert LaPenta’s Cool Coal Man, Post 2, Eddie Castro, 4-1; Zayat Stable’s Alaazo, Post 3, Jose Lezcano, 30-1; Big Brown; Alien Farm’s Nistle’s Crunch, Post 5, Elvis Trujillo; Robert LaPenta’s Coal Play, Post 6, Joe Bravo, 8-1, and Dogwood Stable’s Atoned, Post 7, Edgar Prado, 6-1.
Big Brown clicked off four straight wins as a 3-year-old, and came into the Belmont with a chance to become the first Triple Crown winner in 30 years. However, he was rank early and then could not make up any ground around the turn. Desormeaux pulled up the colt at the top of the stretch. There is still no definitive answer as to what went wrong.
Michael Iavarone, head of the IEAH Stables syndicate that owns Big Brown in partnership with Paul Pompa Jr., said he was looking forward to the Haskell because he feels fans will see the real Big Brown.
“We’re eagerly anticipating this race,” Iavarone said. “If it’s possible, he’s training better than he did before he won the Kentucky Derby.”
Trainer Nick Zito, who saddled Da’Tara to upset the Belmont Stakes, has two of the Haskell entrants in Cool Coal Man and Coal Play, sons of Mineshaft who will race as separate betting interests.
Cool Coal Man was made the Haskell second choice at 4-1 based on his race here last out on June 14 when he won the Spend a Buck Stakes by a neck over Atoned. The race marked Cool Coal Man’s comeback after a disastrous trip in the Kentucky Derby, where he finished 15th, more than 31 lengths behind Big Brown. Earlier this winter, the colt won the Grade 2 Fountain of Youth Stakes at Gulfstream.
“I like the inside post (2) for him,” Zito said. “I’m hoping he can save ground and run a nice race.”
Coal Play has yet to win a stakes race, but also owns a win over the Monmouth track. He beat older horses by more than nine lengths here on May 25, and last out was third in an allowance, again against older.
“He likes Monmouth Park, and ran big there in his first start over the track. He may have bounced last time, I’m not really sure what happened. He has all the attributes to be a nice horse. I’m just hoping he can put it all together.”
Bravo said he looks forward to riding the colt again.
“First time I rode this horse he ran huge,” the jockey said. “I had such high hopes after that race, and then he came back to run poorly. The truth is, I learned more about him when we lost than when we won.”
Atoned, third choice at 6-1, is trained by Todd Pletcher, who is seeing an unprecedented third straight victory in the Haskell. Pletcher won with Bluegrass Cat in 2006 and Any Given Saturday last year. The colt by Repent has had a “bridesmaid” syndrome his whole career (two wins and seven seconds in 12 starts), but both his lifetime wins have come at Monmouth.
“I don’t know whether he’s been unlucky or underachieving or overachieving,” Pletcher said of the five photos Atoned has lost. “We’re trying to figure that out. We’re putting blinkers on him for this race to see if we can get him more focused.
“He’s performed so well every time we’ve run him that we feel he deserves a chance in a race as prestigious as the Haskell,” the trainer said.
And the chance of hitting a Haskell hat-trick?
“This race is a tall order for any horse,” Pletcher said. “But we’re confident he’s doing well and will give his very best. And maybe we can get lucky.”
Magical Forest, trained by Joe DeMola, comes into the Haskell off two straight stakes scores at Delaware, including the Grade 3 Barbaro last out with Jorge Chavez aboard. The son of Forest Camp breaks from the rail in the Haskell.
“I’m ecstatic about the post,” DeMola said. “I was hoping for one, two or three and got what I wanted. This colt has been getting better and better. He and Jorge put it together in the Barbaro and I’m hoping they can do it again.”
Trainer Ken McPeek said he expects Nistle’s Crunch to give his best, as always, in the Haskell. The colt by Van Nistelrooy is the only New Jersey-bred in the race, owned and bred by state residents Michael Harrison and Dr. Alan Furst.
“He’s a versatile horse * he’s won on turf, dirt and Polytrack * and he tries hard every time,” McPeek said. “The owners are from New Jersey and the Haskell is very special to them.
“This horse is very professional, rock-solid,” the trainer said. “Aside from Big Brown, the Haskell looks wide open.”
Alaazo, a son of A.P. Indy who is trained by Bill Mott, has strong Monmouth connections. The colt broke his maiden here last August in his first career start, and he is out of the Deputy Minister mare Atelier, who won the 2002 running of the Molly Pitcher Breeders’ Cup Stakes (G2) over this track.