08/16/2008 12:00AM

Grasshopper gets some class relief in Iselin


OCEANPORT, N.J. - After tackling Curlin, Commentator, and Student Council in his last three races, Grasshopper finds a more forgiving spot Saturday in the Grade 3, $300,000 Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Having run with the big dogs in the handicap division in a trio of Grade 1's, Grasshopper holds a recent-class advantage over eight rivals in the 1 1/8-mile Iselin.

Trainer Neil Howard had a number of options for Grasshopper following his third-place finish, 13 1/4 lengths behind Commentator, in the Whitney Handicap at Saratoga on July 26. For many reasons, the Iselin made sense.

"We thought the timing was good from the Whitney," Howard said. "The mile-and-an-eighth is a very suitable distance for him. It's a Grade 3 and a very nice purse. This track plays pretty fair and he doesn't get too far back and he doesn't have to be in front. There were no negatives, so we thought this was a good spot for him."

The class relief could be Grasshopper's biggest edge. He burst on the scene last summer at Saratoga with a sparkling allowance win followed by a game second to Street Sense in the Grade 1 Travers.

He has run some solid races since the allowance win but is 1 for 8 in that span. The Iselin offers Grasshopper a solid shot to revisit the winner's circle.

"He's run good every time," Howard said. "He's been in some tough races. He's been keeping good company."

This is not a pushover spot for Grasshopper. Not against a solid field that includes Gottcha Gold, last year's Iselin winner trying to regroup following a fading fourth in the Skip Away Stakes, the Iselin prep on July 26.

"The race was a disappointment, but I'm willing to toss it out," trainer Ed Plesa said. "He's training fine, same as always, so I'm looking for a rebound."

Trainer Larry Jones and jockey Terry Thompson teamed to win the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks last weekend. They return for the Iselin with Honest Man, third last time out in Monmouth's Salvator Mile.

Trainer Bobby Dibona sends out the entry of Actin Good and Cuba.

Actin Good, winner of the Pegasus Stakes last fall, returns following a six-month freshening.

"He never left my care," Dibona said. "We mapped out this schedule. He's come back a different horse, more focused. I'm hoping his best is yet to come."

Cuba, claimed for $18,000 in February, has won five races since then, including a victory last time out in the Charles Hesse III Handicap for New Jersey-breds on the Haskell Day undercard.

Continental: Pletcher takes two shots

Robby Albarado picked up the mount on Sabino for trainer Todd Pletcher in the $60,000 Continental Mile for 2-year-olds at a mile on the grass. Pletcher also sends out Bittel Road with Joe Bravo aboard. They will race uncoupled.

Beacon Beach tests turf for the first time after posting a convincing win over New Jersey-breds.

* Bravo will serve a three-day suspension starting Wednesday for interference while riding Mohican in the third race on Aug. 7.