08/05/2004 11:00PM

Grade 3 turf stakes both wide open


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The Oceanport Handicap and the Matchmaker Stakes, a pair of Grade 3 races to be run on the turf, head a strong undercard supporting Sunday's Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.

Despite the loss of expected starter Megantic to a tendon injury, the 1 1/16-mile Oceanport looks to be an excellent betting race, featuring a full and competitive field. The venerable Del Mar Show and the consistent Burning Roma loom the likely favorites, although Kathir will take some money in his first stakes try in this country for trainer Todd Pletcher. He was a sharp winner of an allowance race in his latest race, his first try off a short layoff, and he was flattered when runner-up Spruce Run returned to win a division of the Elkwood Stakes in his subsequent start. Chuck Lopez rides.

Most of the entrants for the $100,000 Matchmaker are based at Monmouth but three shippers - Where We Left Off, Alternate, and Janeian - appear to be the main threats. Where We Left Off, who will be ridden for the first time by Corey Nakatani, has won four of her last five starts, all of them as the betting favorite. Alternate has only two grass wins to her credit but they were both stakes races, as she has captured Delaware Park's Robert G. Dick Memorial each of the past two years. Janeian, meanwhile, comes off a two-length win in the Grade 3 Royal Heroine Stakes at Hollywood Park in her latest, her second stakes score of the year. Eibar Coa rides Alternate; Eddie Martin Jr. will be aboard Janeian.

Frisky Spider, winner of the Restoration Stakes earlier in the meet and most recently fourth in the Choice Stakes, will be among the favorites in another turf stakes on the card, the $100,000 Ocean Place Resort, but he may well be vulnerable.

Frisky Spider, who will again be ridden by Eddie King Jr., is a confirmed front-runner, and there are a couple of entrants more than capable of pushing him on the lead, including Forest Grove and Biloxi Pride. Both of those runners are coming out of sprint races and figure to be eager in the early stages. A quick, contested pace would compromise the chances of all of the speed-types in the one-mile Ocean Place Resort, while at the same time benefiting closers Prep School, Grand Heritage, and Commendation.

Prep School, from the barn of Monmouth's leading trainer Tim Hills, is one of the few in the field who lacks stakes experience but he looms a big threat given the expected race flow. Prep School has been facing older allowance runners in New York of late and has more than held his own, and his Beyers suggest he's capable of handling the class rise. Elvis Trujillo will ride.

Commendation, meanwhile, has been facing some of the top 3-year-old turf runners in the country this year, including Kitten's Joy, Prince Arch, Timo, and Icy Atlantic. He was off the board in his latest try, the Grade 3 Lexington Stakes at Belmont, but a lack of pace in that one left him with too much to do late. Given all of the speed lined up for the Ocean Place Resort the pace scenario should be no concern for jockey Eibar Coa.

Grand Heritage hasn't won a stakes race since capturing the Continental Mile over this course last year but he has been posting improved Beyers in recent starts. Jockey Pat Day, who was aboard for his last win, back in March, figures to have him ideally positioned.

Back on the main track, the Regret and the Teddy Drone stakes, a pair of $100,000, six-furlong sprints, both feature deep fields. The Regret, restricted to fillies and mares, drew a solid group of sprinters. She is Raging, runner-up in the My Juliet at Philadelphia Park in her last start, looms a serious threat to Travelator, who has been favored in each of her last five races. A live longshot in the field may be Hidden Ransom, who closed strongly for second in the Betsy Ross Stakes in her most recent, on the turf.

Aggadan, meanwhile, appears to have a slight edge over Canadian Frontier and Highway Prospector in the Teddy Drone. He was a solid second in his latest start, in the Grade 2 Tom Fool Stakes, and in his prior race he won an allowance race at Belmont, earning Beyers slightly better than the 107 figures earned by one-two finishers Canadian Frontier and Highway Prospector in the Longfellow. Aaron Gryder gets the mount on Aggadan, Edgar Prado is back aboard Canadian Frontier, and Abel Castellano Jr. retains the mount on Highway Prospector.

Misty Sixes, most recently third in the Grade 2 Delaware Handicap, heads a field of nine for the $100,000 Lady's Secret Stakes for fillies and mares going 1 1/16 miles.

A four-time stakes winner, Misty Sixes is easily the most accomplished runner in the Lady's Secret but she may have trouble with upstart Paisley Park, a Joe Pierce-trained filly who is back in a stakes race for the first time since October 2002. Paisley Park hasn't raced since winning an optional claimer here in June but she was impressive in that victory despite traffic troubles and she has been working very well toward her return. Mario Pino will ride Misty Sixes, while Alan Garcia is aboard Paisley Park.

Haskell Day features a special first post of noon Eastern. Post time for the Haskell is 6:20.