08/24/2001 12:00AM

Broken Vow takes on Sir Bear in Iselin


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Sunday's Grade 2, $350,000 Iselin Handicap is a showdown between a proven veteran and a talented colt who is looking to catapult himself to the top tier of the division.

The 1 1/8-mile Iselin, Monmouth's premier race for handicap horses, drew a field of five, and features a matchup between three-time Grade 1 winner Sir Bear, age 8, and graded-stakes winner Broken Vow, age 4. First Lieutenant, North East Bound, and Knock Again are also entered in the Iselin.

Sir Bear and Broken Vow have met twice this year, in the Massachusetts Handicap and Gulfstream Park Handicap. Sir Bear finished ahead of his younger rival in both those races. Sir Bear won the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap by one-half length, and Broken Vow, in his first Grade 1 appearance, finished third, two lengths. In their second meeting, Sir Bear ran second and Broken Vow third.

After Broken Vow's third-place finish as the even-money favorite in the Grade 2 Mass Cap on June 2, trainer Graham Motion created a schedule for his horse that would keep him away from the leading handicap runners whom he had battled since the winter. The move has resulted in two dominating performances for Broken Vow, who enters the Iselin in top form. He romped in the Skip Away Stakes here June 30, earning a 115 Beyer Speed Figure, and then was victorious in the Carpenter Memorial at Delaware Park July 21. Broken Vow's lone graded stakes win came in the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland earlier this year.

"This is his most important race to date," said Motion, who trains Broken Vow for Pin Oak Stable. "He has to prove himself in the Iselin if he's going on to the Breeders' Cup Classic. I don't want to have to make any excuses for him this time."

Sir Bear has earned $2,357,160 for Barbara Smolin in his five-year career that has included 60 races. Trained by Ralph Ziadie, Sir Bear has only improved with age. Although he has only one win in four starts this year, that win came in the Grade 1 Gulfstream Park Handicap. In his last start, he never fired in the Prairie Meadows Cornhusker Handicap. Sir Bear, a gelding, reunites with jockey Eibar Coa after a two-race absence. He ran second in last year's Iselin, having to chase lone front-runner Rize.

"He hasn't shown me the age," said Ziadie. "I keep telling people he's like vintage wine, he gets better with age. I hope he proves me right on Sunday."

The Iselin, the 11th of 12 races on the card, has a probable post time of 5:45 Eastern. The race will be televised on ESPN from 5-6 p.m. along with the Ballerina Handicap from Saratoga.