Haskell lands 2 out of 3 Triple Crown race winners

Jul 30, 2009 - 9:27 PM By RICHARD ROSENBLATT AP Sports Writer

OCEANPORT, N.J.(AP) -- Bob Kulina tried.

Already sitting pretty with Preakness winner Rachel Alexandra and Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird for Sunday's Haskell Invitational, Monmouth Park's president went for the trifecta last week: He raised the prize money a quarter-million dollars to $1.25 million, hoping to entice Kentucky Derby winner Mine That Bird into the field.

It didn't work. Mine That Bird will run as planned in Saturday's West Virginia Derby, but having two out of three Triple Crown race winners in the Haskell is not bad at all.

"I mean, I have the best horse in America," Kulina said.

Rachel Alexandra was made the 4-5 favorite over Summer Bird and five other colts in Thursday's draw. The 3-year-old filly brings a seven-race winning streak into her second start against the boys.

"Mine That Bird would have made it a really incredible race," Kulina added. "I think we had a shot for a while, but we didn't get him."

Still, the 42nd edition of the Haskell could be one of the most memorable. It'll be the first time a Preakness winner and Belmont winner have met in the Haskell since 1987, when Belmont winner Bet Twice edged Derby and Preakness winner Alysheba in what many consider the best Haskell.

"I think this race has the potential to match that one," Kulina said.

Rachel Alexandra will be ridden again by Calvin Borel and leave from the No. 6 post. Munnings, winner of the Tom Fool and the Woody Stephens in his last two starts, was the surprise 3-1 second choice.

Summer Bird was the 7-2 third choice for his first start since beating Dunkirk and Mine That Bird in the Belmont in just the fifth race of his career. The son of Birdstone will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux, and leave from the No. 2 post.

Also entered are Bunker Hill (30-1), Duke of Mischief (15-1), Arkansas Derby winner Papa Clem (12-1) and Atomic Rain (10-1).

Trainer Tim Ice believes Summer Bird is ready for Rachel.

"I think we're going to give her a good run," Ice said. "He's had seven weeks since the Belmont, and he's really grown up and matured a lot and filled out very nicely. We have a tough task with six quality horses to run against."

Munnings is being asked to stretch out to 1 1-8 miles after establishing himself as a top sprinter.

"I felt like the horse is doing so well he deserves a chance to run in a race like this," trainer Todd Pletcher said, adding that the goal for Munnings is the seven-furlong King's Bishop at Saratoga next month.

Rachel Alexandra overwhelmed two rivals in the Mother Goose for 3-year-old fillies by 19\\ lengths in her last start. Before that, the filly beat Mine That Bird by a length in the Preakness in the first race under new owners Jess Jackson and Harold McCormick and trainer Steve Asmussen.

She has been training for the Haskell at Saratoga and will be shipped to the Jersey Shore track Friday morning, with a Saturday gallop planned.

The last filly to win the Haskell was Serena's Song in 1995.

"I hope she runs up to expectations," Jackson said this week. "She's in top shape. I believe she's ready to race."

Trainer Derek Ryan just hopes his long shot Bunker Hill can offer a challenge. Asked where he thought his horse would be, Ryan said: "About four or five lengths off the pace - hopefully the filly takes a shine to him in the gate and doesn't leave him too far behind."

HASKELL NOTES: The 2003 Haskell produced a record crowd of 53,368, and racing officials believe that mark could fall. "I am hoping we have a bigger crowd than that," New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority chairman Carl Goldberg said. In '03, Peace Rules defeated Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide, who ran third.

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