American Pharoah headlines lucrative Monmouth card

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Ted Black

August 1st, 2015

Thoroughbred racing fans had been waiting 37 years for a horse such as American Pharoah to end the prolonged Triple Crown drought during the spring, but they will not have to wait nearly that long to see the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner make his much-anticipated return to the races tomorrow afternoon at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

American Pharoah brings a seven-race win streak into Sunday's edition of the Grade I, $1.75 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park and while the Bob Baffert-trained son of Pioneer of the Nile has already secured divisional honors and horse of the year he will still have to navigate the nine furlongs tomorrow to capture his eighth score in nine career outings. Several of his rivals have tested him before without much success, so American Phaorah is expected to rule as the 1-5 favorite in his return.

Among his rivals are two horses that tried him in at least one prior Triple Crown event. Keen Ice finished seventh in the Derby then returned to run a solid third in the Belmont Stakes. Upstart looked to be among the better colts training in Florida last winter and he won the Holy Bull Stakes and then was disqualified from first in the Fountain of Youth before running second in the Florida Derby. But on the first Saturday in May while American Pharoah was draped in roses after winning the Derby, Upstart finished 18th and last in Churchill Downs' signature event.

Another colt looking to upend the champ is Competitive Edge, a talented son of Super Saver trained by Todd Pletcher. Competitive Edge won the first four starts of his career, including the Pat Day Mile - formerly the Derby Trial - on the undercard of the Derby. But he finished a distant sixth as the odds-on choice in the Woody Stephens on the Belmont Stakes undercard and now will attempt to regain his winning ways in a very difficult spot. Comeptitive Edge was cross-entered for the Jim Dandy Stakes at Saratoga on Saturday, but has opted for the Haskell on Sunday.

The Haskell is the last stakes on a lucrative card at Monmouth Park on Sunday. One race earlier the $150,000 Oceanport Stakes at one-mile and one-sixteenth on the grass looks to be a three-horse affair between Heart To Heart, Kharafa and Lochte. Then one race prior in the Grade II, $200,000 Monmouth Cup at one-mile and one-sixteenth on the main track, Protonico will attract considerable attention for Pletcher and rider Mike Smith, as will Bradester and Valid. But Pants On Fire has won three times in seven starts over the strip for trainer Kelly Breen and merits some backing at a decent price.

One race earlier in the ninth, the $150,000 Matchmaker Stakes on the grass, a race once contested annually under the lights at Atlantic City Race Course, I'm Already Sexy, Testa Rossi and Cushion will garner much of the support, but Charm City Girl is worth a flyer for trainer Graham Motion of Animal Kingdom and Main Sequence fame. One race earlier in the $100,000 Teddy Drone at six furlongs on the main track, Catron will get plenty of support for Pletcher as will Stallwalkin Dude for David Jacobson and Wildcat Red, but Green Gatto is certainly worth at least a token play in this spot.