08/17/2008 11:00PM

Hystericalady back to defend title

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Hystericalady will return for an encore on the Jersey Shore. She headlines the Grade 2, $300,000 Molly Pitcher Stakes on Sunday at Monmouth Park, a race she won last year by a convincing 6 1/4 lengths.

That was one of two sparkling efforts here last season by the 5-year-old mare. Hystericalady returned in the fall for the Breeders' Cup, finishing second by a neck to Ginger Punch in the Distaff, one of the epic battles of that championship weekend.

Trainer Jerry Hollendorfer confirmed Monday that Hystericalady is set for a Molly Pitcher defense. She is slated to fly in from Northern California on Tuesday.

Travel doesn't seem to faze Hystericalady.

This will be her sixth start this year at five different racetracks around the country.

"It's kind of funny, but I actually think she likes getting on the plane and going to different places," Hollendorfer said. "She seems very happy wherever she goes."

Hystericalady comes up to this spot in fine form, having scored dominant Grade 2 wins in her last two outings: the Fleur de Lis Handicap at Churchill Downs and the Delaware Handicap most recently on July 13.

"I need a race for this filly," Hollendorfer said. "Having won the race there last year and running well in the Breeders' Cup, I do know that our filly likes that racetrack."

Hystericalady figures to be a very strong favorite in her Monmouth return.

Stakes coordinator Mike Melendez had a short list of likely runners that included Lexi Star, who was last year's Molly Pitcher runner-up, and Talkin About Love, winner of the Monmouth Oaks last season.

Czarina's Girl is nominated to the Molly Pitcher, and trainer Pat McBurney is monitoring developments. The 6-year-old is nearing the end of her racing career, and the D'Arrigo Racing Stable would love to put an in-the-money finish in a graded stakes on her resume.

She could run if the field comes up short, or if it rains. Czarina's Girl is 4-2-0 in 8 wet-track starts.

"You never know who is going to show up, and if it gets sloppy, she really improves," McBurney said.

The fallback position comes one day earlier at Monmouth: the $70,000 Omnibus Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 3/8 miles on the turf on Saturday.

Honest Man looks to try synthetic surface

A synthetic-surface bid is likely next for Honest Man, following his 2 3/4-length win Saturday at Monmouth in the Grade 3 Philip H. Iselin Stakes.

"He did everything right," trainer Larry Jones said. "We were able to stalk the early pace and go after the leaders turning for home."

The latest victory was the seventh in 11 tries for the 4-year-old, and Jones needs to know if the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita is a viable goal.

In order to answer that question, Honest Man will probably get his synthetic-track initiation in the Grade 2 Kentucky Cup Classic on Sept. 27 at Turfway Park.

The Iselin was Honest Man's second straight race at Monmouth, following a third-place finish in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile, an effort compromised by a bobble at the break.

"It sure looks like the Salvator Mile set him up perfectly for this," Jones said.

Luna Park seeks rebound in allowance

Speed was dominant on Haskell Day at Monmouth.

Even Big Brown had trouble reeling in the loose-on-the-lead Coal Play to capture the Haskell.

Not surprisingly, Luna Park faced a tough fight when he battled the bias in the Charles Hesse III Handicap for New Jersey-breds on the Haskell undercard.

The 5-year-old gelding trained by John Tammaro III offered a mild rally to get fourth behind Cuba.

Luna Park looks to regroup Wednesday at Monmouth against open company in the $45,000 second-level allowance feature. None of the six runners is entered for the $50,000 optional claiming tag.

"It was a speed-favoring racetrack," Tammaro said of the Hesse. "Even Big Brown had to work hard. Our horse has been running better since we started taking him off the lead, but he was too far back that day and I don't know if he can beat Cuba."

In his two previous races, both at Monmouth, Luna Park posted impressive Beyer Speed Figures of 93 and 95 in a pair of wins.

- additional reporting by David Grening