OCEANPORT, N.J. – Trainer Bob Baffert will look to add another Haskell Stakes and big payday to his collection when the lightly raced Arabian Knight takes on Kentucky Derby winner Mage and six others in the $1 million showcase event of the summer meet at Monmouth Park.
The 70-year-old Hall of Famer has already won the Grade 1 stakes at the New Jersey Shore track a record nine times and finished second six other times.
The field of eight 3-year-olds for Saturday’s 1 1/8 mile race also includes Belmont Stakes third-place finisher Tapit Trice and trainer Steve Asmussen’s Extra Anejo.
“I think this is a very tough race," Baffert said. “There are some good horses in there. When you’ve got the Derby winner in there, it makes it an exciting race. Extra Anejo, we know he’s a superstar kind of horse. I think they’ve got a great field. You’ve got to bring your A game.”
Arabian Knight is undefeated in two career starts but has not raced since January when the colt's owners decided to give him more time to develop instead of rushing him into the Triple Crown races.
“It’s exciting to win the Haskell. I always try to figure out, as 2-year-olds, who is going to be my Haskell horse,” Baffert said. “The reason we’ve been so successful is that I always bring my best horse. You need that to win that race. It takes a pretty nice horse to do what he’s done and he’s still learning.”
Mage is returning to racing for the first time since finishing third in the Preakness.
“It’s time to get the summer rolling,” co-owner Ramiro Restrepo said. “He had a great break, 17 days off with no track, no saddle. We brought him back and were able to get three works into him. It’s the start of the second half of his 3-year-old year.”
Restrepo has indicated Mage will race in the Travers at Saratoga next month.
“We’re just happy that we have a talented horse,” he said. “He’s feeling good and ready to give a good account of himself on Saturday.”
Trainer Todd Pletcher debated on whether to start Forte or Tapit Trice in the Haskell but felt Forte needed more time after finishing second in the Belmont following a layoff.
“We felt Tapit Trice came out of the Belmont in really, really good order. Just full of energy,” Pletcher said. “Obviously the Grade 1 status and the big purse were attractions as well.”
Geaux Rocket Ride drew the No. 1 post position and was made the 9-2 fourth choice. Mike Smith is listed to ride in the race that is scheduled to start at 5:47 p.m. ET and be televised by NBC Sports.
The rest of the field in post position order with colt, jockey and odds is: Awesome Strong, Jose Batista, 30-1; Salute the Stars, Joel Rosario, 8-1; Mage, Javier Castellano, 3-1; Tapit Trice, Luis Saez, 3-1; Howgreatisnate, Paco Lopez, 20-1; Extra Anejo, Tyler Gaffalione, 5-1 and Arabian Knight, John Velazquez, 5-2.