Winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, but pulled up in the Belmont Stakes, Big Brown makes his first start since that enigmatic effort on June 7 in the mile and an eighth Haskell. The Boundary colt starts from Post 4 and will be an odds-on favorite against six rivals with regular rider Kent Desormeaux aboard.
The two other Haskell starters already on the grounds, Dogwood Stable’s Atoned and Alien Farm’s Nistle’s Crunch, both galloped a mile and a quarter Saturday morning. Robert LaPenta’s duo of Coal Play and Cool Coal Man, and Zayat Stable’s Alaazo, will be shipped down from Saratoga early Sunday morning. Paraneck Stable’s Magical Forest also arrives early Sunday after vanning from Aqueduct.
The Haskell, centerpiece of Monmouth’s summer meeting, will top a 14-race card Sunday, going as the 13th event on the program. Post time for the Haskell is 6:14 p.m. The race will be televised live on ESPN Classic (6-6:30 p.m.) and also on TVG, which will provide daylong coverage of the entire Monmouth card.
Gates will open at 10 a.m., with the first race slated to go off at 12 noon. The program includes seven stakes races in addition to the Haskell, topped by two Grade 3 turf events * the Taylor Made Matchmaker for fillies and mares (10th race) and the Oceanport Stakes (12th race) for older runners.
The betting program will include an all-stakes Pick 4 starting on the 10th race with a guaranteed pool of $250,000, and a 50-cent Pick 5 starting on the 5th race with a guaranteed pool of $50,000.
Big Brown burst on the racing scene this winter in Florida when he blitzed an allowance field on March 5, and then won the Grade 1 Florida Derby by five lengths. He went into the Kentucky Derby as the favorite and ran to his odds, scoring by nearly five lengths. In the Preakness, he was never extended while winning by more than five lengths, and came into the Belmont Stakes with a chance to become an undefeated Triple Crown winner despite some foot problems.
However, Big Brown was rank and roughed up the first quarter-mile of the mile and a half event, and then steadily dropped back after a mile. Desormeaux pulled him up entering the Belmont stretch and Big Brown failed to finish. Neither the owners nor the trainer have been able to come up with an explanation for the effort.
Big Brown’s main rivals in the Haskell will be Atoned, who has two wins and three seconds in five Monmouth starts for trainer Todd Pletcher, and the Nick Zito-trained paid of Coal Play and Cool Coal Man, both of whom have won over the Monmouth strip. The Zito horses will run as separate betting interests.
Pletcher will be going for an unprecedented third straight Haskell victory when he saddles Atoned. The Eclipse Award-winning trainer won in 2006 with Bluegrass Cat and last year with Any Given Saturday.
Nistle’s Crunch is a New Jersey-bred who will be making his first start in the state. The son of Van Nistelrooy, trained by Ken McPeek, comes off three straight turf starts.
Alaazo, the least-raced of all the Haskell horses with just four starts, broke his maiden at Monmouth last year, and his dam, Atelier, won the Molly Pitcher Stakes (G2) here in 2002.
Magical Forest, trained by Joe DeMola, comes into the Haskell off two stakes victories at Delaware Park.