Shackleford: the Preakness winner faces Belmont Stakes Ruler On Ice PICTURE: Getty Images
Shackleford set for Haskell showdown
Preview: USA, Sunday 10.43pm BST (live on ATR)
Monmouth Park: Haskell Invitational (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo
SUNDAY'S Haskell Invitational offers a Classic showdown as Preakness winner Shackleford faces off against Ruler On Ice, who beat him in the Belmont Stakes.
With Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom sidelined for the rest of the season, the $1 million event at Monmouth Park ought to provide a touch of clarity to a muddled three-year-old division.
Shackleford (Dale Romans/Jesus Castanon) is likely to start favourite for the Haskell as he drops back down to a more suitable trip after fading to fifth place over 1m4f ina muddy Belmont.
The front-running son of Forestry, who ran in all three Triple Crown races, starts from gate five in an eight-runner field. "He's had a gruelling year but he's still holding his weight and still looks great," said trainer Dale Romans.
"We gave him a two-week break after the Belmont to freshen up and he seemed to appreciate it. His last two works were spectacular. He's been training great, and we'll see what happens."
Kelly Breen will saddle both Ruler On Ice and Pants On Fire for owners George and Lori Hall, who live near the track in New Jersey.
Ruler On Ice (Jose Valdivia) was a shock winner of the Belmont, where he relished the mud. "I'm still on cloud nine from that race," Breen said. "I always thought he was a top-notch horse but he's a test for any trainer. We added blinkers for the Belmont, and maybe that put him over the top."
Ruler On Ice is joined by his stable companion, the Louisiana Derby winner Pants On Fire (Elvis Trujillo), who won the Pegasus Stakes at this track on June 18.
Trainer Bob Baffert won last year's Haskell with Lookin At Lucky, who was drawn on the rail. He saddles a potentially dangerous new shooter inSwaps Stakes runner-up Coil (Martin Garcia), who has also drawn the inside as he makes his dirt debut, having encountered only all-weather tracks in the past.
"He's been down on the inside all year," Baffert said, "I was hoping for something different. We'll find out a lot more about this horse in this race - he's been getting better and better as he gets older. He worked over the dirt track at Santa Anita, and Garcia said he thought he went even better than over the synthetic."
Steve Asmussen, who won the Haskell in 2009 with Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, runs Preakness third Astrology (Julien Leparoux) in the same colours.
"We need him to run the best race he's ever run," said Asmussen. "I think the mile and an eighth of the Haskell is the ideal distance for him."
Coral: 9-4 Shackleford, 100-30 Coil, 7-2 Pants On Fire, 11-2 Astrology, 7 Ruler On Ice, 16 J J's Lucky Train, 20 Concealed Identity, 25 Joe Vann
Also on Sunday
Del Mar: Bing Crosby Stakes (Grade 1) 6f, AW, 3yo+ (1.30am Mon BST)
The admirably consistent Smiling Tiger (Jeff Bonde/Joel Rosario) goes for the fourth Grade 1 victory of his career as he bids to complete back-to-back successes in the Bing Crosby.
Having led all the way over 7f in the Triple Bend last time out at Hollywood, the four-year-old breaks from the inner against six rivals in this $250,000 contest.
They include Kinsale King (Carl O'Callaghan/Martin Pedroza), winner of the 2010 Dubai Golden Shaheen, and Euroears (Bob Baffert/Rafael Bejarano), running for the first time since finishing second in this year's running of the Meydan race.
Saratoga: Fourstardave Hcap (Grade 2) 1m½f, turf, 3yo+ (9.55pm BST, live on ATR)
Last year's Santa Anita Derby winner Sidney's Candy (Todd Pletcher/John Velazquez) makes his debut for new connections after a "sensational" workout on the turf.
Unsurprisingly, the four-year-old son of Candy Ride concedes a bit of weight all round to half a dozen rivals.
>>Last year's winner Get Stormy misses the race with a minor tendon issue, according to trainer Tom Bush.
Saratoga: Ruffian Invitational (Grade 1) 1m1f, dirt, 3yo+ f/m (10.30pm BST, live on ATR)
None of the seven horses entered here boasts a previous Grade 1 victory. Indeed, only Super Espresso (Todd Pletcher/Ramon Dominguez) and Payton D'Oro (Larry Jones/Gabriel Saez) can boast a graded-stakes win of any kind.
The latter hasn't scored since the 2009 Black-Eyed Susan, though she has had an extended spell on the sidelines in the meantime and was second to Awesome Maria in Grade 1 company last month, when Super Espresso was third.