07/11/2007 11:00PM

First Defence in stakes debut

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Bobby Frankel scratched First Defence from the Dwyer Stakes on July 4 at Belmont Park, avoiding a confrontation with seasoned 3-year-old stakes runners like Any Given Saturday and Nobiz Like Shobiz.

Frankel found a more favorable race for First Defence's stakes debut: the $150,000 Long Branch Breeders' Cup on Saturday at Monmouth Park.

"I just though it would be an easier spot," Frankel said.

Frankel chose well. None of First Defence's five rivals has won a stakes race. Half of the field - First Defence, Crusader Rabbit, and Get Serious - will make their stakes debuts.

The Long Branch is Monmouth's traditional prep for the $1 million Haskell on Aug. 5. The top two finishers in the Long Branch are traditionally extended invitations to the Haskell.

Even with that incentive, the complexion of the field remained in flux right to the close of entries Thursday. Of the 15 horses nominated, only First Defence and Saratoga Lullaby entered. The other four were supplemented to the 1 1/16-mile race at $5,000 apiece.

Although lightly raced, First Defence will be well-backed in this spot. The Juddmonte Farms homebred is 2 for 4, and his lone race this season was a sharp first-level allowance win at seven furlongs on May 26 at Belmont, earning an eye-popping 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

The colt should be ready for another swift effort following four bullet works at Belmont in the interim.

Speed is always an asset at Monmouth, especially with the new cushion on the main strip already producing several track records.

"I think he'll be forwardly placed," Frankel said.

As for the bigger goal - the Haskell - Frankel won't commit that far ahead.

"We'll see what happens," Frankel said. "We'll find out more Saturday."

Javier Castellano, who has been aboard First Defence for every race, has the return call.

Kelly Breen, Monmouth's leading trainer the last two seasons, got to the Haskell last year with runner-up Praying for Cash, who earned his way there with a Long Branch win.

Breen sends out Keeneland Kid, who was checked on the first turn and lost all chance in the Coronado's Quest Stakes here June 24.

The undefeated Cable Boy, the Coronado's Quest winner, is bypassing the Long Branch and will be trained up to the Haskell. He will be replaced by stablemate Get Serious.

* On the undercard, multiple-stakes winner High Cotton makes his turf debut for trainer Todd Pletcher in the $60,000 Bob Harding Stakes at one mile.