OCEANPORT, N.J. -- The $1 million Haskell Invitational looks appealing to trainer Butch Reid, following Afleet Again's second-place finish last weekend in the Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park.
The Jim Dandy is in the mix. So is the West Virginia Derby. But the way Afleet Again has run and trained at Monmouth has Reid thinking the big gray colt would do best by staying home for the Grade 1 Haskell at 1 1/8 miles on Aug. 1.
In the Pegasus, Afleet Again rallied for second behind Afleet Express, the very impressive winner. Afleet Again, the Withers winner in April at Aqueduct, has now hit the board in four straight stakes.
"He came out of the race great," Reid said Wednesday morning after watching Afleet Again gallop at Monmouth. 'He was on his toes and eager to go around there."
At 1 1/16 miles, the Pegasus equaled the farthest distance the colt has gone.
"I think distance is really going to help him," Reid said. "I've been dying to get this horse a mile and an eighth or even a mile and a quarter. He's just barely getting warmed up at a mile and a sixteenth so the Haskell is very much in our plans so far."
The next Haskell prep is the $175,000 Long Branch on July 10. Reid will skip that spot and aim for bigger riches three weeks later.
"The reason we picked the Pegasus is that it gives us six weeks to the Haskell, which I think is perfect," Reid said. "His next start will be that weekend."
Soaring Empire eyes Long Branch
The Long Branch is a possible target for Soaring Empire, third in the Pegasus.
Like Afleet Again, Soaring Empire launched a rally in a paceless race. He ranged into contention with a four-wide surge on the final turn but could not sustain the run.
"There was no pace, and he made a good run," trainer Cam Gambolati said. "I'm satisfied with the race. I think he can run with those horses. He got beat by only three lengths after losing ground on the far turn."
For Gambolati, the Pegasus was another step in the learning curve for Soaring Empire, who has only six starts.
"It's not like I have to make the Haskell," Gambolati said. "The whole key is to continue a progression. If he ran well in the Long Branch, maybe I'd think about it, but the Haskell looks like it will come up a pretty good race with Super Saver and Lookin At Lucky. Hopefully, down the road I can race with them."
Schoolyard Dreams gets a rest
There will be no Long Branch or Haskell for Schoolyard Dreams after he ran last in the Pegasus while battling for the lead through slow early fractions.
The hard-luck loser of the Tampa Bay Derby by only a nose has been turned out on a farm for a couple of weeks of freshening by trainer Derek Ryan.
"We're starting all over," Ryan said.
The Pegasus was an opportunity for Schoolyard Dreams to rebound after running ninth in the Preakness.
"The dream is over," Ryan said. "It's back to reality. He came out of it fine. He's really not a front-runner, but there was no pace in there. He just wasn't good enough."
After the vacation, Schoolyard Dreams will be pointed to a second-level allowance race before targeting a lucrative stakes like the Pennsylvania Derby. Ryan offered a final thought on Pegasus winner Afleet Express.
"He might be the best 3-year-old in the country," Ryan said. "He might be the horse to beat the rest of the way."