07/13/2006 12:00AM

Haskell plans hinge on the Long Branch


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Latent Heat takes an important step in his comeback while Gottcha Gold and Praying for Cash renew their rivalry Saturday in the Grade 3, $150,000 Long Branch Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park.

The Long Branch is Monmouth's traditional prep for the $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 6.

The Long Branch, at 1 1/16 miles, drew only six runners, as it faced stiff competition from the $350,000 Ohio Derby on Saturday at Thistledown and the $300,000 Leonard Richards Stakes on Sunday at Delaware Park.

suffered a shin injury in the spring that knocked him out of Triple Crown consideration. He returned to score a 9 1/2-length win in a first-level allowance at Belmont Park on June 24.

"We want to see how he handles Monmouth," said trainer Bobby Frankel. "If he runs well, we'll come back for the Haskell."

bested Praying for Cash by seven lengths when they met here in the Coronado's Quest Stakes on June 25.

Gottcha Gold shot right to the front and led all the way to post a career-best Beyer Speed Figure of 101.

"When I reflect on that race, I can see an improving horse going the right way," said trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. "This is certainly the time you want to see them improve."

Gottcha Gold is a son of Coronado's Quest, winner of the 1998 Haskell.

"I don't want to jinx him, so I'm not even thinking about it," Plesa said of the Haskell.

got off awkwardly in the Coronado's Quest as the 8-5 favorite. The poor start probably had little impact on the outcome, with Gottcha Gold sitting on a huge race.

"If we break better, I don't know if it makes that much of a difference," said Kelly Breen, Praying for Cash's trainer. "That horse ran an unbelievable race."

Breen was encouraged that Praying for Cash, stretching out for the first time, pressed on despite the adversity.

"It was a stepping-stone," Breen said. "He never stopped running. He didn't pack it in."

Breen has a second runner in the Long Branch: New Jersey-bred Meadow Blue, who was supplemented to the race for $5,000. They race as an entry.

Throng, also entered in the Leonard Richards, and Victory Lake complete the field.

Elkwood: Ashkal Way preps for Spa

Ashkal Way made a smooth transition to U.S. turf racing with a pair of allowance victories at Belmont Park.

The Godolphin Racing gelding was slated for a third Belmont start, but a targeted race did not fill.

That made the $60,000 Elkwood Stakes, a one-mile race on the grass Saturday at Monmouth Park, an appealing fallback as Ashkal Way preps for Grade 2 action at Saratoga in the Fourstardave on Aug. 6 and the Bernard Baruch on Aug. 26.

"I just wanted something in between, and when the allowance race didn't go, I saw the race at Monmouth," said Rick Mettee, assistant to trainer Saeed bin Suroor.

Ashkal Way has won 4 of 11 starts, starting in Europe and making a stop in Dubai before settling at Belmont.

"He ran against pretty solid horses in the handicaps in Europe," Mettee said. "He has some quality to him. He's worked out very well."

Ashkal Way will be tested by Hotstufanthensome, last year's Elkwood winner; Gulch Approval, winner of the Grade 3 Appleton Handicap at Gulfstream Park in February; and Senor Swinger, a recent private purchase who debuts for trainer Joe Orseno while closing in on $1 million in earnings.

- additional reporting by David Grening