06/22/2010 11:00PM

Ever a Friend has edge in class

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Several angles point to Ever a Friend in the third-level $62,500 optional-claiming feature on the turf Friday at Monmouth Park.

A 7-year-old gray gelding trained by Mike Mitchell, Ever a Friend has the back-class edge, owning a Grade 1 victory in the 2008 Kilroe Handicap among his six wins. He was a beaten favorite last time, finishing third in a key race. Get Serious, the winner, came back to capture the Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes.

While Ever a Friend enjoys several advantages, nothing comes easy this summer at Monmouth where enhanced purses have produced a more competitive product.

Just ask Mitchell, a longtime fixture in California, who has a string at Monmouth this year. Mitchell won his first race of the meet last Sunday, lifting his record here to 1-1-4 in 11 starts.

"It's been tough," Mitchell said. "There are good horsemen here, and the racing has been very solid. Sometimes, you think you have an edge and you open up the Form and go 'Whoa, maybe I don't have edge after all.' The seconds and thirds have been okay, but they don't really pay the bills like wins do."

Ever a Friend looks well positioned in the one-mile race, which has a purse of $84,000. He is one of two horses carrying the $62,500 tag.

He was a fabulous claim by Mitchell for this same price in December 2007. In addition to the Kilroe, Ever a Friend also ran second in a pair of Grade 1's: the 2008 Shoemaker Mile and the 2009 Citation Handicap.

He is winless in three tries this year, and Mitchell is taking an aggressive stance.

"His last race was a super race, a great race," Mitchell said. "I think right here is what he can do. I think he's the horse to beat. You can't sit on these horses forever. I tried him in some stakes company this year, so I think I have him in the right level. He's been good to me, but there is no sense in chasing stakes horses with him."

Beacon Hill Road will be one of the horses looking to knock off Ever a Friend. Some of his best efforts have come in spots like this, one mile on the turf.

"It just seems like a better distance for him," trainer Jason Servis said.

Most recently, Beacon Hill Road was fourth in the slop while sprinting at Philadelphia Park.