10/10/2009 12:00AM

Cuba not ready yet for the home


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Cuba, a career winner of almost three-quarters of a million dollars, tops a $48,000 stakes-quality feature Monday at the Meadowlands.

The third-level optional $50,000 claimer attracted six going a mile. Four runners are exiting stakes, including Cuba, a closing second last time out in the Maryland Million Classic at Laurel.

Cuba, 8, heads to the post for the 49th time in a long career. Cuba, along with Southern Rainbow, carry the $50,000 tag.

At points last year, Cuba would have been a bargain for $50,000. He earned almost $400,000 in 2008, a campaign that included a win in the Maryland Million Classic and a third behind Commentator in the Massachusetts Handicap.

Time, however, catches up to us all. Trainer Bobby Dibona, who made a fabulous claim when he got the New Jersey-bred Cuba for $18,000 in February 2008 at Gulfstream Park, concedes the veteran has lost a step. Cuba is 1 for 8 this year, the lone win coming in a starter allowance at Gulfstream in January.

"He's going to be 9 years old," Dibona said. "He's not the same horse. He's obviously going to return to the claiming ranks. The horse has been so good for us, we want to make sure we manage him properly. It's one thing to run in a restricted race, but if you look at a $50,000 race at Keeneland or Gulfstream, there are some serious horses in those places."

Cuba will be back on relatively short rest, having last run Sept. 26. Dibona thinks the quick turnaround will help.

"The old man is doing great," Dibona said. "I've had success bringing him back like that. I expect a good performance from him."

Cuba will need a top effort in a solid field that includes Hermosillo and Luna Park, the one-two finishers in the Charles Hesse III Handicap for New Jersey-breds. In the Hesse, Cuba rallied from far off the pace to get third.

The speedy Hermosillo has the rail and again figures to be a major pace factor.

A 5-year-old gelding, Hermosillo pulled off a front-running upset in the Hesse at 35-1 and followed that with a runner-up finish in another New Jersey-bred stakes, the Lincroft Handicap.

Hermosillo could have pace company from Samhoon, who is launching a comeback after finishing last in the Grade 2 Suburban Handicap at Belmont Park on July 4.

Dubinsky, the youngster in the race at 3, completes the field.