“I am a huge fan of Paynter’s,” Romans said when discussing his horse’s rival in Sunday’s Grade 1 $1 million Haskell Invitational while on a conference call with national media members on Tuesday afternoon. “He’s the horse to beat and will be out there running. We’ll have to run him down.”
“That was nice,” Baffert said when told of Romans’ regard for his horse.
The courtesies will end when Paynter and Dullahan line up in the starting gate with four other confirmed starters. Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes winner Le Bernardin, Grade 3 Affirmed Stakes winner Nonios, plus Handsome Mike and Stealcase, both of whom are multiple grade 3 stakes placed, will also try capture the trophy and earn some black type.
Donegal Racing’s Dullahan arrived on the grounds late Monday night from Kentucky and was safely tucked into Roman’s barn on the backside. He has been training brilliantly at Churchill Downs and tuned up for the Haskell with a five-furlong bullet work of :59.80 last Saturday.
“I kept him on one track,” said Romans. “I didn’t see any sense in shipping him to New York (with a contingent of his other top horses) and training him there on that track and shipping him to Monmouth to run on a different track,” said Romans.
As for the racing surface in the Empire State, Romans said that Dullahan did not care at all for the track when he finished a well-beaten seventh in the Belmont Stakes as the 2-1 favorite last out.
“The track at Monmouth is not as near as deep, sandy and cuppy as Belmont,” said Romans. “The track at Monmouth is a lot more like the one at Churchill, and he likes that one.”
Paynter also fired a bullet in his final work for the race on Monday, traveling six furlongs in company with Liaison in 1:11.80 at Del Mar under Rafael Bejarano, who will be aboard for the Haskell.
“Paynter is a lazy work horse, but he galloped out one mile in one-thirty-nine,” Baffert told the Daily Racing Form’s Jay Privman.
Baffert, who won the last two editions of the Haskell with Coil (2011) and Looking At Lucky (2010), added that Paynter hardly had the best of trips in the Belmont.
“He got hit hard in a hind leg, skinned up his leg, and pulled a shoe,” he said. “He was sore for a couple of days, but he came out of it and he’s doing great.”
Zayat Stables’ Paynter and G.B. Smith, Jr.’s Nonios will share a plane ride from Southern California and arrive on the grounds on Thursday. Handsome Mike, trained by Doug O’Neill, is flying to New York on Tuesday and then being vanned to Monmouth.
Nonios has only raced on the artificial surface at California tracks in his five lifetime starts but he is a son of Pleasantly Perfect, who won the 2003 Breeders’ Cup Classic when it was run on Santa Anita’s dirt track, and a grandson of 1997 Haskell winner Touch Gold.
“We’re coming into the Haskell with an improving horse,” said trainer Jerry Hollendorfer. “We didn’t want to run him on the turf and I think he’ll handle the dirt track at Monmouth just fine.”
As of Tuesday afternoon, Wood Memorial Stakes winner Gemologist, Dwyer Stakes winner Teeth of the Dog, and Long Branch Stakes winner My Adonis were under consideration for the field.
The Haskell is slated as the 13th race on a 14-race program with an estimated post of 6:17 p.m. The Haskell Day card will get underway at noon, with gates opening at 10 a.m. A limited number of reserved seats are still available and can be purchased by calling 732-571-5563, visiting the ticket booth sales office on the second floor of the Grandstand on any live race day or by visiting http://www.ticketmaster.com.