Haskell speeds toward Eclipse Coronado's Quest gets long-awaited meeting against Victory Gallop

August 08, 1998|By Tom Keyser | Tom Keyser,SUN STAFF

OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Before the Preakness Stakes, trainer Elliott Walden said he didn't want to run Victory Gallop, who had finished second in the Kentucky Derby, against Coronado's Quest.

In fact, the day that trainer Shug McGaughey declared that Coronado's Quest would run, Walden responded by saying that Victory Gallop would not. Only after top contenders Indian Charlie and Halory Hunter dropped out -- and Victory Gallop flashed a readiness to race -- did Walden enter the bay colt.

But then, the day before the Preakness, Coronado's Quest bruised a foot and was scratched. The one matchup Walden feared -- Victory Gallop vs. Coronado's Quest -- never happened.

Now, 12 weeks later, it's finally set -- at the party track on the Jersey shore, Monmouth Park, in the $1 million Buick Haskell Invitational Handicap.

Victory Gallop, winner of the Belmont Stakes after seconds in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and Coronado's Quest, the rogue, perhaps reformed, owned by Stuart S. Janney III of Butler, head a field of six 3-year-olds tomorrow in the 1 1/8 -mile Grade I dTC stakes televised on ESPN2.

Victory Gallop is the morning-line favorite at even money. Coronado's Quest is the hot second choice at 6-5.

Showdowns don't come any more heated than that.

"I think he's going to be real tough to beat," Walden said of Coronado's Quest. "He's a horse who could beat Victory Gallop as easy as get beat by him."

The Haskell lost some luster when Real Quiet, who missed winning the Triple Crown by a nose in the Belmont, injured a rear leg last month and probably won't race until late in the year.

"I had mixed emotions about Real Quiet being out of there," Walden said. "I really enjoyed watching those two horses run against each other in the Triple Crown. There's a little unfinished business for both of us."

That head-to-head business will have to wait. For now, the

competition revolves around those two, Coronado's Quest and the question: Which is the best 3-year-old in the country?

Although Real Quiet won two Triple Crown races, he is no shoo-in as 3-year-old male champion, especially on the sideline the second half of the year. That Eclipse award may be decided in the Haskell tomorrow and the Travers Stakes on Aug. 29 at Saratoga.

"It's really a two-race set right now," Walden said. "Victory Gallop needs to win one of the two. If he wins both of them, he's a cinch to be 3-year-old champion."

But Walden acknowledged that the Haskell perhaps favors Coronado's Quest. Monmouth Park historically favors speed, and few horses are quicker than Coronado's Quest. This year, even with a new track surface, Monmouth Park remains a track difficult for closers such as Victory Gallop.

"We probably have a better chance to win the Travers," Walden said of the longer race at Saratoga. "And Shug probably has a better chance to win the Haskell."

Shug is Shug McGaughey, trainer of Coronado's Quest.

"But that's not going to keep us from running," Walden said.

Victory Gallop hasn't raced since the Belmont, but three excellent workouts -- two at Churchill Downs and one at Saratoga -- indicate his eagerness. Recently at Saratoga, Walden said, they had to close Victory Gallop's stall door because, upon hearing the call of the races, he began bucking and squealing.

"He's coming up to the race as well as he did any of the Triple Crown races," Walden said. "I expect him to run as well as he ever has."

Race facts

What: Haskell Invitational Handicap, 1 1/8 miles

Where: Monmouth Park, Oceanport, N.J.

When: 5: 42 p.m. tomorrow

Purse: $1 million

TV: ESPN2

Pub Date: 8/08/98

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