August 8, 2005
Bob Baffert joined the ranks of Haskell Invitational elite Sunday as Fog City Stable's Roman Ruler gave the trainer his third victory in the $1 million centerpiece of Monmouth Park's season. Roman Ruler, sent off the 11-10 favorite in the mile and an eighth Haskell, thrilled the crowd of 43,769 as he ran down a game Sun King to win going away by a length and a quarter. Park Avenue Ball, the local hero, was third, two lengths behind Sun King and one length in front of a late-closing Chekhov.
Roman Ruler, who tuned up for the Haskell by winning the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont last month with Jerry Bailey aboard for the first time, ran like he was back to the brilliant form that brought him two graded stakes victories as a 2-year-old, before foot problems compromised his effectiveness late last year and into this season.
The son of Fusaichi Pegasus raced the nine furlongs in 1:49 1/5 with Bailey up, and paid $4.20, $3 and $2.40 across the board. Sun King returned $4 to place and $3 to show and completed the $16 exacta. Park Avenue Ball paid $2.60 to show.
The race was simplicity itself. Sun King outgunned Joey P. for the lead and held stoutly into the stretch. Roman Ruler tracked the leaders down the backstretch, and then asserted himself in the stretch as he reeled in Sun King in midstretch and drew off with some urging from Bailey.
The colt gave Baffert his third Haskell win, tying him with Hall of Famers Sonny Hine and Warren A. "Jimmy" Croll. The trainer won in 2001 with Point Given, who went on to be named Horse of the Year, and in 2002 with War Emblem, the 3-year-old champion.
"This was my most gratifying Haskell," Baffert said. "Roman Ruler had to prove he was that kind of horse - could he step up to win a Grade 1? It was his coming out party, to show that he could do it. All I told Jerry was that the horse was better today than he was last time. I told him he was ready today. That's all you tell a jockey like Jerry."
For his part, Bailey said he had a very pleasant trip. "Bob led me to believe he'd be a little keener today," the jockey said. "He broke well and I was able to tuck in around the first turn. He took to the track well. I could have waited and been a little farther back, but he was going so well, there was no reason for that. He tugged me up to the leader, and it was pretty simple from there."
Javier Castellano, who rode Sun King for trainer Nick Zito, said, "I had a perfect trip. He made the lead easily and relaxed on the backside. When I asked him to go, he responded, but Jerry had a lot of horse left."
Jim Ryerson said he thought Park Avenue Ball ran well despite being shut in on the rail. "He ran his race, but he was stuck down inside most of the way," the trainer said. "I think he tensed up a little bit. He ran well, though."
Photos ©2005 Eugene Viti