OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Bluegrass Cat, finally fulfilling the promise suggested by second-place finishes in the Kentucky Derby and Belmont Stakes, romped to a record seven-length victory in the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational for 3-year-olds Sunday at Monmouth Park.
The time was 1:48.85 for 1 1-8 miles on the fast track. It was the first Haskell win for jockey John Velazquez and trainer Todd Pletcher. Earlier on the card, they also teamed to win the Grade 3, $150,000 Matchmaker Stakes with Ready's Gal.
Bluegrass Cat's Haskell victory sets the stage for a possible showdown with Preakness and Jim Dandy winner Bernardini in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga on Aug. 26. The two have never met.
"The way he ran today, he would be tough," said Velazquez. "I think he can beat anybody. I always liked this horse. He showed today he has a lot of potential."
Bluegrass Cat ($4), the heavy favorite of the crowd of 42,318, was never far off the pace set by Praying for Cash.
Bluegrass Cat had the outside post in the nine-horse field and wound up extremely wide as Joe Bravo, aboard Praying for Cash, kept his horse well off the rail.
Velazquez felt the wide trip was an advantage.
"I wanted to be there," he said. "I was watching the races all day to today and that seemed like the best part of the racetrack. I wasn't concerned about that."
Praying for Cash, winner of Monmouth's Long Branch Breeders Cup Stakes, made a brazen bid to pull off the upset at 9-1. He set a solid pace, running the six furlongs in 1:11.85, while maintaining an open-length lead.
Bluegrass Cat was a persistent presence who made his move approaching the final turn and kept eating away at Praying for Cash's lead. Bluegrass Cat pulled away in the final furlong for his first victory since the Sam F Davis Stakes at Tampa Bay Downs on Feb. 18.
"To win a Grade 1 as significant as the Haskell puts him in the elite category as racehorse and prospective sire," said Pletcher who did not immediately commit to the Travers.
"We have only 20 days to the Travers, which gives horses who ran in the Jim Dandy an extra week on us," Pletcher said. "We'll let him tell us how he bounces out of this."
Praying for Cash held on for second.
"This horse ran awesome," said Bravo who won the first five races on the card and also had three seconds. "Down the backside, I had lots of horse and all I could think about was the gold."
Dwyer winner Strong Contender rallied for third after steadying between horses on the first turn.
"He got crammed, rammed and bammed," said trainer John Ward. "The winner got away clean."
Victory Lake was fourth followed by Electrify, Awfully Smart, Flashy Bull, Deputy Glitters and Little Cliff.