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Jul 31, 2009

'Rachel' and Summer Bird headline Haskell



Oceanport, NJ (Sports Network) - Preakness Stakes winner Rachel Alexandra and Belmont Stakes champ Summer Bird headline a field of seven three-year-olds for Sunday's $1.25 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

Last week the purse for the 1 1/8 mile race was increased from $1 million by $250,000. Champion three-year-old Big Brown won the 2008 running of the Haskell.

Rachel Alexandra, the first filly to win the Preakness in 85 years, is the 4-5 morning-line favorite and will start from post six with regular rider Calvin Borel.

"I think the race will set up good," Borel said Tuesday during a national teleconference. "I'd say Monmouth is conducive to her running style. I'll probably lay right off the pace. If she breaks good and gets a good spot, we'll be good."

Jess Jackson, who said he first initiated the $250,000 purse increase, co-owns the filly with Harold McCormick. 'Rachel' is undefeated this year in six starts, including the Kentucky Oaks, Preakness and Mother Goose Stakes.

"I thought she should run against the boys again and meet another champion in Summer Bird, who won the Belmont despite trouble," Jackson said Tuesday. "Every time Rachel runs she sets a record, and it's exciting to watch her run."

Trained by Steve Asmussen, the filly has won nine of 12 lifetime starts for nearly $1.8 million. This year alone she has banked almost $1.6 million and is working on a seven race win streak dating back to November.

"I think it's an excellent draw for us," Asmussen said from Saratoga. "In a seven-horse field, there shouldn't be a lot of traffic for anybody."

'Rachel' continues atop the NTRA thoroughbred poll over leading older female Zenyatta. The filly is expected to arrive at Monmouth Park from Saratoga on Friday morning.

Belmont Stakes winner Summer Bird is the 7-2 third choice in the program and will be ridden by Kent Desormeaux from post two. This will be his first start since winning the third leg of the Triple Crown for owners Drs. K.K. and Devi Jayaraman.

"Seven-horse field, post position isn't going to matter," said trainer Tim Ice.

Summer Bird did not race as a two-year-old and won the Belmont Stakes in his fifth career start. He was third to Papa Clem in the Arkansas Derby before finishing sixth in the Kentucky Derby to Mine That Bird.

"This colt is showing a lot of maturity early," noted Ice. "He's really grown up. The colt's just putting everything together."

The chestnut colt has won two of five career starts for $723,040.

The 3-1 second choice is Munnings, owned by Mrs. John Magnier, Michael Tabor and Derrick Smith. The colt will break from post four with John Velazquez again in the saddle.

"I think that's perfect," Pletcher said about the post. "We're in the middle. There will be no excuses from there."

Munnings won the Woody Stephens Stakes in June and came back to beat older horses in the Tom Fool Handicap at Belmont Park a month later. He has earned $422,240 with three wins in seven career starts.

Here is the complete field in post position order for the 46th Haskell Invitational: Duke of Mischief, Eibar Coa, 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.

Atomic Rain, who won Monmouth's Long Branch Stakes, suffered a sore hoof recently, but jockey Joe Bravo said the colt is healthy.

The race will be run as the 13th on a 14-race program, with an estimated post time of 6:14 p.m. ET.

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