07/13/2007 11:00PM

First Defence cruises in Long Branch

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First Defence handled his first stakes assignment with style, posting a front-running victory in the $150,000 Long Branch Stakes on Saturday at Monmouth Park.

The Long Branch is the prep for 3-year-olds aiming for Monmouth's big event of the summer: the $1 million Haskell on Aug. 5.

The first two Long Branch finishers are usually extended Haskell invitations. It's an offer trainer Bobby Frankel and Juddmonte Farms will strongly consider for the talented but largely untested colt.

Looking for an easier spot, Frankel scratched First Defence from the Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park on July 4. The bettors approved the move, making First Defence the 1-5 favorite on Saturday.

The outcome was never in doubt as First Defence, with Javier Castellano aboard, took charge early and rolled to a 2 1/4-length victory over the surprising Get Serious.

"He was feeling real good today," Castellano said. "As soon as they opened the gates, boom, I was in front. After that, I was just letting him go along and make sure he was comfortable. He's a very nice horse. I've liked him from the very beginning."

Castellano has been aboard for all five of First Defence's career races. The Long Branch was his third victory.

Get Serious could wind up in the Haskell after running a strong second in only his third start, and first since winning his maiden. He is a stablemate to the undefeated Cable Boy, who is being trained up to the Haskell by John Forbes and longtime assistant Pat McBurney.

Saratoga Lullaby got third.

The time was 1:42.30 for the 1 1/16 miles on the fast track.

* Baron Von Tap ($28.20) took charge at the top of the lane and went on to a one-length victory in the $60,000 Bob Harding Stakes on the turf.