OCEANPORT, N.J. — When Bob Baffert looks to extend his record for victories in the TVG.Com Haskell Invitational to nine on July 20, the Hall of Fame trainer will likely do so in an unfamiliar position.

Six of his previous eight Haskell winners have gone off as the favorite in Monmouth Park’s signature race (Bayern in 2014 and Coil in 2011 won for Baffert as the second choice).

That probably won’t be the case when Mucho Gusto goes postward in the $1 million, Grade 1 race despite the colt’s nearly-flawless record of five wins, a second and a third in seven career starts.

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But would it be a surprise if the son of Mucho Macho Man-Itsagiantscauseway by Giant’s Causeway pulled off a minor upset?

Yes and no, said Baffert.

“It would probably be a lot of fun to win it with this one. When you don’t expect to win those are the ones that are a lot of fun,” he said. “But honestly, we’re surprised when we lose. We’re not surprised when we win.

“If I didn’t think we had a chance to win I wouldn’t send him. I think he’s got a chance. If everybody shows up and runs the way they’re capable of it should be a heck of a race.”

For now, Maximum Security and the Todd Pletcher-trained King for a Day are the headliners in the 52nd running of the Haskell Invitational. Joevia and Mucho Gusto, despite back-to-back Grade 3 wins at Santa Anita, would be nipping at the heels of the top two. Chilly in Charge, Everfast and Spun to Run are the other probable starters at this point.

“If Maximum Security runs his race I think he will be tough,” Baffert said. “I thought he just got tired last time (a one-length loss to King for a Day in the TVG.com Pegasus Stakes on June 16).”

Starting with his first Haskell victory with Point Given in 2001, Baffert has won the race eight times and has been second on two other occasions. Point Given’s victory was followed by wins by War Emblem (2002), Roman Ruler (2005), Lookin at Lucky (2010), Coil (2011), Paynter (2012), Bayern (2014) and American Pharoah (2015).

He was second with American Freedom in 2016 and in 2013 with Power Broker.

“Mucho Gusto is a little like Power Broker. He’s that kind of horse,” Baffert said.

A $625,000 yearling purchase, Mucho Gusto has competed in six straight graded stakes races since breaking his maiden at 2 on Sept. 18 and has yet to miss the board. This will be his second try in Grade 1 company.

“He’s a horse who I think is getting better. He’s very consistent,” Baffert said. “But he’s going to have to step up in order to compete with these horses.

“I like to take a swing at the fences. Sometimes you have to do that. If he wins it’s great. Even second would be fine. I’m not going in with the favorite like I usually do but I think he deserves a chance so we’ll take a shot at it.”

Baffert said Mucho Gusto, owned by Michael L. Petersen, will ship on Wednesday, and will put in his final work on Friday in California. Joe Talamo, the colt’s regular rider, will make the trip East to ride in the Haskell.

“This is a horse that is slowly getting there,” Baffert said. “He’s been pretty solid to this point but I think he is still getting better. This would be a big accomplishment for him if he were to win.”

Among other Haskell Invitational contenders, Maximum Security galloped on Thursday and will have his final work before the race either Monday or Tuesday, trainer Jason Servis said. Joevia, third in the Belmont Stakes, will work five-eighths on Sunday in his final prep, according to trainer Gregg Sacco.

Trainer Juan Carlos Guerrero said he has enlisted Paco Lopez to ride Spun to Run in the Haskell.

Dale Romans Hoping Everfast’s Late-Running Style Proves A Good Fit In Speed-Loaded Haskell Invitational

Trainer Dale Romans knows the TVG.com Haskell Invitational represents a significant challenge for Everfast. But it’s not as if he hasn’t been in this position before for Monmouth Park’s signature race.

In the 2015 Haskell, Romans sent out Keen Ice against Triple Crown winner American Pharoah – and saw his horse run a solid second, beaten just 2¼ lengths.

So even though Everfast has struggled to find the winner’s circle since breaking his maiden 11 starts ago, Romans is sending the Preakness runner-up into the Saturday, July 20, Haskell feeling he has a late runner with a chance in a race that appears to be brimming with speed.

“I’m not frustrated by what he has done,” Romans said of Everfast, who was also second in the Grade 2 Holy Bull and was beaten just 3¼ lengths in the Belmont Stakes. “To me he’s the little engine that could. He tries hard. It took him a while to get going and to show his talent but that’s starting to happen.

“Finishing second in the Preakness was big and it was also big to only get beat 3¼ lengths in the Belmont Stakes. That was a good race he ran.”

Everfast, a son of Take Charge Indy-Awesome Surprise by Awesome Again, has posted his two best Beyer Speed Figures (92 and 96, respectively) in the Belmont and Preakness, his last two starts. He staged a rousing late run to close from 11th in his second-place Preakness finish, beaten 1¼ lengths by War of Will.

“You can tell he’s improving,” said Romans. “The Preakness was by far his best race. His coming out party was the Holy Bull and then he let people know he was still around in the Preakness. His Belmont wasn’t a bad race, either.”

Owned by Calumet Farm, Everfast has banked $99,805 despite being just 1-for-12 lifetime.

The Haskell was a chance Romans did not want to pass up with his colt.

“The Haskell is one of my favorite races of the year,” he said. “Any time I have a chance to compete there we’re going to take it. (Calumet Farm owner) Mr. (Brad) Kelley loves the Haskell as well, so he said `let’s take a chance.’ ”

Romans also finished second in the 2011 Haskell Invitational with 3-2 favorite Shackleford, who was beaten a neck when Coil closed from eighth and last to get up at the wire. He is hoping for a similar scenario where a late runner – his horse – is the one flying at the end.

“We’ll try to do what Coil did – sit back and then come running late. Nail the leader at the wire. That would be great,” said Romans. “I like the way the race shapes up for us. It looks like it’s a nice fit for a closer.”

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