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Haskell next for Park Avenue Ball
OCEANPORT, N.J. - Jim Ryerson worries a lot. It comes with the territory as a horse trainer.
Ryerson had a couple of concerns for Park Avenue Ball heading into Saturday's Long Branch Breeders' Cup Stakes at Monmouth Park: How would the colt respond to a layoff, having not run since finishing second to the eventual Preakness runner-up, Scrappy T, in the Withers Stakes at Aqueduct on April 30? Could he win a two-turn race?
Ryerson got the right answers from Park Avenue Ball, who drew off to a 6 1/4-length victory in Monmouth's traditional prep for 3-year-olds heading to the 1 1/8-mile $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 7.
"I couldn't have hoped for anything more." Ryerson said. "He exceeded my expectations."
Ryerson, true to his nature, has a fresh concern: Does Park Avenue Ball belong with the top-level colts, including likely Haskell starter Afleet Alex?
"I just don't know where we fit with the upper echelon," Ryerson said. "I don't know how many of them we're going to get in the Haskell."
Park Avenue Ball has not disgraced himself against top-level colts in his 10-race career. A New Jersey-bred, he won the Grade 2 Futurity at Belmont Park last fall and was beaten by only five lengths by High Fly in the Grade 1 Florida Derby in the spring.
The class question will be resolved in the Haskell, where Park Avenue Ball, owned by the locally based Char-Mari Stable, will have the advantage of running over his home track.
"The Haskell is the logical step, but we know the company will be much different," Ryerson said.
Smokescreen a Haskell maybe
Smokescreen did not put himself solidly in the Haskell picture with a fourth-place finish in the Long Branch. But the race didn't knock him out of consideration, either.
"We weren't disappointed with the way he ran," said trainer Ben Perkins Jr. "The extra distance certainly won't hurt him. It will probably be a game-day decision.'
Smokescreen made a strong late run in the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch after a tardy start.
"He was a little on edge," Perkins said. "He didn't stand real well and he was acting up in the gate. He just wasn't concentrating."
Smokescreen broke a step slowly and took a bump shortly after the break. That knocked him off his game, and it took a half-mile for him to recover.
"From the half-mile pole, he swung wide and made a nice game move," Perkins said. "He ran real hard. He tries hard every time, that horse."
Even with a sharper break, Smokescreen was not going to beat Park Avenue Ball that afternoon. With Park Avenue Ball and Afleet Alex likely headed to the Haskell, Perkins said he will explore other options.
Smokescreen will be nominated to the Grade 3, $750,000 West Virginia Derby at Mountaineer Race Track on Aug. 14.
"The West Virginia race would certainly be a little softer spot," Perkins said. "We'll see who's playing here, who's playing there."
Wild Wildcat looks to rebound
Wild Wildcat will try to regroup on the turf in the $44,000 allowance feature Wednesday at Monmouth Park.
A 4-year-old colt by Forest Wildcat, Wild Wildcat suffered his first loss last time out at Monmouth on June 12, when he made his first start in more than a year. As usual, Wild Wildcat shot right to the front, but he faded in the lane to finish fifth at 1-2. The defeat ended a three-race winning streak, but he will look to get back on track in his turf debut in this five-furlong race.
"Some of Forest Wildcat's best horses have been five-eighths turfers," said Perkins. "This opens a whole new field of possibilities."
Perkins said he expects a solid rebound in this spot.
"The first race this year, it was a tough field and it was a brutally hot day," he said. "I guess he just really wasn't up to it. We gave him a little extra time to get himself back together. We're ready to lead him back over again. He's breezed really well since that race, so we'll give him another opportunity."
Stewart Elliott has the return call.
Eastern Point is the sharpest horse in the race. A 4-year-old colt, he is unbeaten in four starts since coming East to trainer Donald Reeder.
Eastern Point started out in California with Bob Baffert and was winless in three tries last year at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park. He won his maiden at Philadelphia Park first time out for Reeder on May 29 and hasn't lost since.
Like Wild Wildcat, Eastern Point will make his first start on the grass. Leading rider Joe Bravo will be aboard.
While the youngsters feel grass for the first time under their hooves, Rudirudy, a 10-year-old gelding, makes his 83rd career start and 52nd on the turf. A winner of 17 races, Rudirudy makes his second start of the meet. Trained by Gaston Sandoval, he enters the race through the $45,000 claiming option and was ninth at 25-1 here June 25.
Hotstufanthensome eyes Oceanport
Trainer Norman Pointer has Monmouth's Grade 3, $150,000 Oceanport Stakes on Aug. 7 on the calendar for Hotstufanthensome following the gelding's front-running win in Saturday's Elkwood Stakes on a yielding turf course. It was the second straight pacesetting win at Monmouth for Hotstufanthensome.
"He came out of the race good, like nothing happened," Pointer said.
In a similar scenario last summer, Pointer took Hotstufanthensome to Saratoga for the Grade 2 Fourstardave Handicap following consecutive Monmouth victories. Hotstufanthensome ran well at the Spa, encountering traffic trouble before rallying to get fourth.
This year, Pointer said he will remain on the Jersey Shore.
"The Oceanport is right here," Pointer said. "The timing is good, and he likes it here. Why move?"
Hotstufanthensome is very comfortable on the Monmouth course. The Elkwood victory improved his record to 5-1-0 in six Monmouth grass races.
Hotstufanthensome is also a relatively fresh horse following an incident at Gulfstream Park before the Ft. Lauderdale Stakes on Jan 9. He reared up in the paddock and caught a front leg over a railing.
"He sat down like a dog and pulled muscles in his back and hind legs," Pointer said. "It took a long time to get over it."
Hotstufanthensome finished 10th in the Ft. Lauderdale and didn't run again until starting his current winning streak at Monmouth.
"Maybe it was a blessing in disguise," Pointer said.