09/15/2005 12:00AM

Haskell also-ran Joey P. live in 'Lover'

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Joey P. turns back from the 1 1/8 miles of the Haskell to six furlongs on Saturday.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - The Grade 1 Haskell Invitational was an ambitious spot for Joey P.

In it, Joey P. - a gelding who had shown so much talent as a sprinter - was sent 1 1/8 miles against some of the leaders in the 3-year-old division.

He hung in gamely for seven furlongs before fading out of the picture.

returns to action Saturday at Monmouth Park in the $100,000 Friendly Lover Handicap, a race for New Jersey-breds that poses a different set of challenges.

The Friendly Lover, one of four $100,000 stakes, is the highlight of the third annual New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival.

All 10 races on the card are restricted to horses bred in New Jersey. The day is designed to showcase the statebred talent and encourage breeding in the state, where the 2005 foal crop is expected to fall in line with last year's modest count of 315.

This marks the second time the festival is being held in late September. Last year it was shifted to August.

"This works better for us in September," said Mike Campbell, the executive director of the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association of New Jersey. "We're the main attraction this month at Monmouth Park."

The cutback to six furlongs is a definite advantage for Joey P., who is unbeaten in five starts at Monmouth at distances up to six furlongs, including the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup Stakes.

"He likes going short better," said trainer Frank Costa. "He didn't want to go that far in the Haskell."

This will not be an easy spot, as Joey P. faces a tough trio in Gators N Bears, Trueamericanspirit, and War's Prospect.

is one of the leading sprinters in the mid-Atlantic region. A 5-year-old, he is winless in five starts this year, but drops into an easier spot after four-straight races in graded stakes company. He last faced New Jersey-breds in the 2003 Friendly Lover, finishing third at 1-2. That is his lone loss in four starts at Monmouth.

Trueamericanspirit and War's Prospect have each won a pair of statebred stakes at the meet.

War's Prospect has the best early speed, and trainer Bill Anderson said the gelding will be "going right to the lead."

"We're not going to try and relax him," Anderson said. "He's an extremely fast horse. They have to chase him. They can't let him get too far ahead."

War's Prospect used his speed to win the John. J. Reilly and the Colts Neck handicaps.

hesitated slightly at the break the Bill Wheeler Handicap last time out, and it compromised his chances.

"He got off a step slowly," Anderson said. "He wasn't bad in the gate, but he was rocking in there. He was leaning back when they opened."

Instead of controlling the pace, War's Prospect got caught in a speed duel that sapped his energy. He ran fourth but was elevated to third on a disqualification.

Trueamericanspirit took advantage of the duel to come roaring through the lane for a second straight stakes win.

The versatile Trueamericanspirit won the Lincroft Handicap at a mile and 70 yards in his previous race. Trueamericanspirit's long-or-short option had trainer Tim Hills also considering the Jersey Breeders Handicap. Hills's decision was influenced by the racing strip, which has not been as speed-oriented as usual in September.

"He's either a come-from-behind sprinter or a distance horse," said Hills before entering in the Friendly Lover. "Right now, I'm leaning toward sprinting him back because of the way the track is playing."

In addition to the Friendly Lover, the other handicaps are the Jersey Breeders at 1 1/16 miles, and two filly-and-mare races - the Eleven North at six furlongs and the Jersey Girl at one mile and 70 yards.

I'mtoogoodtobetrue stretched out successfully last time to win the Girl Powder Handicap. The 3-year-old I'mtoogoodtobetrue, who has 4 wins and 4 seconds in 8 career starts, tackles another two-turn assignment in the Jersey Girl Handicap.

Summer Sting, an easy winner in open company most recently, looks to extend a winning streak to three in the Eleven North.

After five straight graded stakes efforts, Cuba will try to rebound in the Jersey Breeders Handicap.