07/22/2009 12:00AM

Cuba looks ready to bounce back


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Cuba will try to reclaim some of the magic that made him of one the top claims of 2008 when he faces four rivals Friday in the third-level/$60,000 optional claiming feature at Monmouth Park. Four of the runners in the $48,000, mile and 70-yard race, including Cuba, are entered for the claiming tag.

Snared for $18,000 at Gulfstream Park in February of last year by trainer Bobby Dibona, Cuba finished the year with almost $400,000 in the bank. His victories included the Charles Hesse III Handicap for New Jersey-breds here and the Maryland Million Classic at Laurel.

He also was third in the Mass Cap behind Commentator and might have done better than fifth in Monmouth's Grade 3 Philip Iselin Stakes with a clear trip.

Now 8, Cuba went 1 for 3 at Gulfstream earlier this year. Back at Monmouth, Cuba finished up the track in the slop in the Bernie Dowd Handicap last month while toting 123 pounds.

"He carried high weight, the track was bad," Dibona said. "It was a lot to ask, and I think his teeth were bothering him because he was trying to get out. They might have been a little sharp, so we floated them."

Cuba turned in a much sharper effort to finish fourth in a similar third-level race here July 4.

Dibona thinks the veteran is now ready to roll.

"I think we're in good shape as long as the track dries out," Dibona said as he studied a forecast that called for rain throughout the week on the Jersey Shore. "He's rounding back into form right now. He looks well. I like where I've got him right now. I expect a heck of a race from him."

Dibona hopes this race serves as prep for a title defense in the Charles Hesse on Aug. 23.

Channing Hill has the mount.

Barcola is another veteran who ran much better here in his latest effort. The 6-year-old trained by Mark Hennig dictated the pace as usual, finishing a solid second on June 17 in his first race since tiring badly in consecutive overnight stakes on the inner-track at Aqueduct in January and February.

Speed is clearly his game, leaving it in the hands of Eddie Castro to ration it wisely.

Barcola could have some early company from Flirtatious Smile, the other New Jersey-bred in the race, who also likes to be on, or close, to the pace.