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NTRA Thoroughbred Notebook

News and notes from around the Thoroughbred racing world, compiled by NTRA Communications.


Superfilly Rachel Alexandra, whose last three stars have consisted of a 20-length win against fillies in the Kentucky Oaks, a win over males in the Preakness, and a 19-length win back against fillies in the Mother Goose Stakes will try her male contemporaries once more in Sunday’s Grade I, $1,250,000 Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J. This morning, Rachel Alexandra drew post six in a field of seven and was made the race’s 4-5 morning line favorite. A victory for Rachel Alexandra could cap a big weekend for her co-owner Jess Jackson, who also has the talented male three-year-old Kensei running in Saturday’s Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga. Rachel Alexandra’s regular rider, Calvin Borel, will again be in the saddle.

“She’s very consistent, she’s got a great attitude, she’s a special filly,” said Steve Asmussen, trainer of Rachel Alexandra, about his female star.

One of Rachel Alexandra’s Haskell rivals is this year’s Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird, who will be making just his sixth career start on Sunday.

“I’m not making any predictions, but I think we’ll give Rachel Alexandra a run for her money,” said Summer Bird’s trainer Tim Ice, who will give a leg up to Kent Desormeaux, who first rode Summer Bird in his victorious Belmont Stakes performance. Summer Bird was made the 7-2 third choice in the morning line.

Second choice in the early calculations at 3-1 is Munnings, a Todd Pletcher trainee who will be stretching out to the mile-and-one-eighth distance of the Haskell following three straight sprint races at seven furlongs. Munnings defeated fellow three-year-olds two races back in the Woody Stephens Stakes on Belmont Stakes day. Then he beat his elders in the Tom Fool at Belmont in his most recent start.

“He’s doing so well now, he deserves to run in a race like this,” said Pletcher, who is no stranger to the Haskell winner’s circle, having won the race in 2006 with Bluegrass Cat and in 2007 with Any Given Saturday. John Velazquez will ride Munnings and break from post four.
A record Haskell crowd of more than 50,000 is expected at Monmouth Park on Sunday. TVG will televise the complete 14-race Sunday card live, with the post time for the Haskell, race 13, set for 6:14 p.m. (ET).

The complete Haskell Invitational field, in post position order, is: Duke of Mischief (jockey: Eibar Coa, morning line odds: 15-1); Summer Bird (Kent Desormeaux, 7-2); Papa Clem (Elvis Trujillo, 12-1); Munnings (John Velazquez, 3-1); Atomic Rain (Joe Bravo, 10-1); Rachel Alexandra (Calvin Borel, 4-5); and Bunker Hill (Kendrick Carmouche, 30-1).

Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird will make his first start since his third-place finish in the June 6 Belmont Stakes when the gelded son of Birdstone takes on five rivals in the Grade II, $750,000 West Virginia Derby to be run at a mile and an eighth on the dirt at Mountaineer Park in Chester, W.V. Mike Smith, who rode Mine That Bird to a second-place finish behind Rachel Alexandra in the Preakness, will once again have the riding assignment.

The deep closing Mine That Bird has been installed as the 3-5 morning line favorite for the West Virginia Derby, but victory for him is anything but a foregone conclusion. Under the allowance conditions of the race, Mine That Bird will carry 122 lbs., and will spot his foes 9-11 lbs. And one of those opponents who will carry just 111 lbs. is the speedy and talented Big Drama who was fifth in the 1 3-16 miles Preakness, beaten just 4 ½ lengths by Mine That Bird despite carrying equal weight and engaging in a tough, front-end tussle with eventual winner Rachel Alexandra. Last time out, Big Drama captured the $250,000 Red Legend Stakes by a widening seven lengths over a shorter, seven-furlong distance at Charles Town.

Mine That Bird’s trainer, Chip Woolley, has proclaimed his horse “dead-ready” for Saturday’s test. But he admits concern over the possible lack of early speed in the race other than Big Drama.

“It’s a big concern any time you get in a situation like that,” said Woolley. “He’s the primary speed horse in the race. If he bounces away from there and gets a free lead, it’s going to be harder to run him down. So it’s definitely a concern and we’ll just have to see how it shapes up.”
The West Virginia Derby will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Net from 5:00-6:00 p.m. (ET). TVG will also air the race live. Scheduled post time for the West Virginia Derby is slated for 5:45 p.m. (ET)

Seven 3-year-olds will assemble at Saratoga on the meet’s opening Saturday for the 46th edition of the Grade II, $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes. The field of seven will be shooting for purse money, of course, but also a shot at the $1 million Shadwell Travers Stakes at Saratoga on August 29.

As usual, the nine-furlong Jim Dandy, named for the 100-1 shot that scored one of racing’s memorable upsets, the defeat of Triple Crown winner Gallant Fox in the 1930 Travers, has attracted some familiar faces from the Triple Crown trail as well as a handful of later-developing colts looking to make their mark in the division this summer, and with good reason: Of the 14 Travers winners to prep in the Jim Dandy since 1964, eight have completed the double, most recently Flower Alley (2005), Bernardini (2006) and Street Sense (2007).

Charitable Man, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin, and Miner’s Escape, from Hall of Famer Nick Zito, will be making their first starts since finishing fourth and 10th, respectively, behind Summer Bird in the Belmont Stakes.

“Before the Belmont, I said I wouldn’t trade places with anyone, and I wouldn’t trade places with anyone now,” said McLaughlin, who will also saddle Flat Bold to his first stakes start in the Jim Dandy. “I still like him a lot. The Belmont was a funny racetrack that day, and the pace scenario turned out different than we thought it would on paper. He didn’t get the mile and a half either, but we don’t have to worry about that anymore.

Other key players will be the first three finishers from the Grade II Dwyer Stakes on July 4 in Kensei, Convocation, and Warrior’s Reward, the 4-5 Dwyer favorite, who stumbled badly at the break to spot the field 18 lengths and was beaten but 5½ lengths.

“He didn’t quit in that race,” said trainer Ian Wilkes of Warrior’s Reward, who worked for the Jim Dandy on Monday under jockey Calvin Borel, covering five furlongs in 1:01.99. “I think he learned something from it and got a lot out of the race both physically and mentally.”
Kensei, who was third at 30-1 behind Munnings in the Grade II Woody Stephens on Belmont Stakes day after a troubled trip, finally fulfilled the promise he showed in his maiden victory here last year with his 3½-length Dwyer score.

“We thought he was a top-class horse when he broke his maiden,” said trainer Steve Asmussen of Kensei. “He had some decent races, but it looked like he came through in the Dwyer the way we had expected him to.”Run as the 10th race on Saturday’s 11-race card which also includes the 71st running of the Grade I, $500,000 Diana, the Jim Dandy will be the third leg of The New York Racing Association, Inc.’s first $500,000 Guaranteed Late Pick Four of the Saratoga meet, which got underway yesterday. Both the Diana and the Jim Dandy will be aired live on MSG Plus as the first of five “Saturdays in Saratoga” telecasts from 5:00-6:00 p.m. (ET).