06/23/2008 12:00AM

Aggressive approach puts Levine at the top


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Bruce Levine finished second in the Monmouth Park training standings the last three summers.

While there are still a lot of races to be run at this meet, Levine is well positioned to earn his first Monmouth title.

Levine was red hot from the start, and the barn shows no signs of cooling off. His latest victory came Sunday with Coli Bear in the $70,000 Blue Sparkler Stakes, a win that gave Levine a 27-13 lead over Eddie Broome in the standings heading into the new week.

Throughout his career, Levine has been an aggressive trainer who wins a lot of races by placing horses where they can succeed. The drop-and-pop strategy has been extremely successful lately, especially with horses from New York running in softer spots at Monmouth.

"I had a lot of fresh horses down there at the start and I've been dropping a lot of horses," Levine said. "I think the horses I brought over from New York are just a little better than the Jersey horses, and I'm definitely putting them in where they can win, maybe even cheaper. Things have just fallen into place."

Many of Levine's Monmouth wins have come for owner Mike Repole, a beverage executive.

"We've got more horses and claimed some horses with Monmouth in mind," Levine said. "I think he'd like to be leading owner. We've been more aggressive taking horses and sending them there."

Given Levine's Monmouth success, the $11 win price on Coli Bear was a surprise in the six-furlong Blue Sparkler for fillies and mares. The 5-year-old was making her first start for Levine following a $200,000 purchase by owners Barbara and Chris Coleman earlier this year.

"She trained good and she had a pretty good race record," Levine said. "I thought she'd be a shorter price than she was. She was fresh and she worked a bullet down there."

After the half-length win over My Sister Sue, Coli Bear will likely get a break. Tentatively, Levine is targeting Monmouth's $100,000 Regret Stakes on Aug. 3, part of the Haskell Day undercard, for her next start.

Much Obliged shipping in for stakes

Malcolm Pierce, one the top turf trainers at Woodbine, brings his promising grass filly Much Obliged to Monmouth on Saturday for the Grade 3, $150,000 Boiling Springs Stakes.

The daughter of Kingmambo came to hand this season with 3 wins in 4 starts, including a victory last time out in the American 1000 Guineas at Arlington Park on May 24.

It all started with a rain-delayed maiden win at Fair Grounds in February.

"Over the winter, everything came together for her," Pierce said. "We had quite a rainy winter in New Orleans, and she got scratched a couple of times when the races came off the turf. That was probably a blessing in disguise, giving her a little more time to mature."

Much Obliged promptly followed up the maiden win with a first-level allowance victory at Fair Grounds. That set the stage for her stakes debut, a sixth-place finish in the Grade 3 Appalachian Stakes at Keeneland in April.

"She was a little disappointing there," Pierce said. "I was expecting a big race but, in looking back, it wasn't that bad a race."

Much Obliged then rebounded with the stakes win at Arlington, setting the stage for her second graded bid in the Boiling Springs.

Pierce will put Much Obliged on a van Thursday night for a Friday morning arrival at Monmouth.

Stakes coordinator Mike Melendez also expects Dagger, Encanto Park, Nicksappealinglady, Saki to Me, and Yippety Yip for the 1 1/16-mile race.

Dattts Awesome seeks rebound

Dattts Awesome caught a yielding turf course at Pimlico for her season debut and suffered an 11-length loss.

She looks to rebound Wednesday at Monmouth in the $45,000 feature, a third-level allowance with a $60,000 claiming option for fillies and mares at 1 1/8 miles on the grass.

"We're baffled by that first start," said Rob Rader, assistant trainer for Mark Hennig. "The course was pretty soft, and I don't know if she'd ever had a track like that. We're looking for a much better race than that."

The return to Monmouth, where she is 2-1-0 in 4 starts over the course, should help.