11/13/2008 1:00AM

Cuba tries to cap his big year


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Cuba, a hugely successful claim in February, looks to close out a banner year Friday night in the $65,000 Alysheba Stakes at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

The 1 1/16-mile Alysheba is the final stakes of the meet - and the New Jersey Thoroughbred season - which concludes Saturday.

The Alysheba also attracted Real Merchant, a Chilean-colt making his U.S. debut after winning 5 of 10 in his native land; Judiths Wild Rush, who crossed the $1 million plateau in earnings with a victory in the Waquoit Stakes at Suffolk Downs in late August; and Get Serious, beaten a neck last time out against New York-breds at Belmont Park in the Mohawk Handicap.

None of the eight rivals can measure up to the kind of success Cuba has enjoyed in 2008.

For Cuba, this will be the final race of a campaign in which he has won 7 of 11 starts, including wins in the Charles Hesse III Handicap at Monmouth Park and the Maryland Millions Classic at Laurel.

Not bad, for a 7-year-old New Jersey-bred claimed for $18,000 at Gulfstream Park on Feb. 6.

"When you're out claiming horses like we do, you always hope to get lucky with something really special," trainer Bobby Dibona said. "He has certainly been that special horse for us this year."

Cuba hasn't run a poor race all year, even in his losses.

He was fifth in the Grade 3 Iselin Stakes at Monmouth, bottled up in traffic in the lane.

"That might have been his best race of all," Dibona said. "He got checked repeatedly. I thought we would have won it."

In his next start, Cuba was a distant third in the Massachussetts Handicap behind 1-10 favorite Commentator, missing second by one length in a homecoming for Dibona, who hails from Weymouth, Mass.

Dibona said Cuba had some swelling in a tendon sheath going into that race.

"There were some complications the day before the race," Dibona said. "It was touch and go for a little bit, but he put on a good show against Commentator. Without those complications, it could have been different in terms of getting second money. I never really thought we could beat Commentator, but second place was $100,000."

Cuba bounced out of the Mass Cap with an easy four-length win in the Maryland Millions Classic.

"He just toyed with them," Dibona said.

After the Alysheba, Dibona will give Cuba some down time until he returns in Florida in the new year.