09/17/2008 11:00PM

Jersey-bred festival adds a jump race


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Monmouth Park added a little jump Saturday to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival, the annual showcase for horses bred in New Jersey.

Monmouth will offer 10 races for statebreds, including a trio of $75,000 handicaps. Two are six-furlong sprints, the Lincroft and the Eleven North for fillies and mares, and the third is the Jersey Girl for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

In addition to the New Jersey-bred races, Monmouth put a steeplechase in the mix: the $75,000 Monmouth County Hunt Novice Stakes, 2 1/4 miles featuring 10 jumps over National Fences.

Many of the leading New Jersey-breds will see action Saturday, but one prominent figure will be missing: Joey P. The popular gelding is sitting out the Lincroft, a move that opens the door wide for Who's the Cowboy in the five-horse field.

"I think the Cowboy will miss Joey," said Gerry Sleeter, the owner of Who's the Cowboy. "They seem to bring out the best in each other."

They certainly did in the last confrontation, the Icecapade Stakes here on Sept. 1. The only two New Jersey-breds in the field finished one-two, with Who's the Cowboy springing the upset by a neck at 9-1.

"That was one of his best races ever," said Sleeter.

As usual, Stewart Elliott will ride.

The top upset contenders in the Lincroft are Bythebeautifulsea, second to Who's the Cowboy in the Colts Neck Stakes here in July, and John's Pic, the pacesetter on the turf last time out in Monmouth's Grade 3 Red Bank Stakes.

Open Skies faced open company in her last two races, both at Monmouth. She was second in the Staybridge Suites Stakes on the turf and fifth in the Miss Woodford dirt sprint.

After those two experiences, the 3-year-old should be very tough in the Eleven North.

Trained by Tim Hills, Open Skies posted dominant wins in her last two races against New Jersey-breds, winning an allowance race by 6 1/4 lengths before earning a career-best 89 Beyer Speed Figure in a 3 1/2-length win in the Spruce Fir Handicap.

Joe Bravo will again be aboard.

Talkin About Love, second to Open Skies in the Spruce Fir, tops the Jersey Girl Handicap. She was no match last time out for Hystericalady in Monmouth's Grade 2 Molly Pitcher Stakes.

National Steeplechase Association action returns to Monmouth on Saturday after a four-year absence with a field of eight set to go in the Monmouth County Hunt Novice Stakes.

The race is open to jumpers who did not win over hurdles prior to May 1, 2007, and is the major prep for the Grade 1 Foxbrook Novice Hurdle Stakes on the Breeders' Cup Grand National undercard at Far Hills, N.J., on Oct. 18.

Be Certain and The Price of Love are the top two contenders.

Be Certain missed by only a half-length last time out against open company in the Grade 1 New York Turf Writers Handicap at Saratoga.

"He ran huge and came out of the race in good shape," said trainer Tom Voss.

Be Certain has gone from a hopeless maiden unable to compete against New York-breds to a steeplechase star in little more than a year, going 3-3-1 in 8 starts since making the switch.

He suffered one of those losses to The Price of Love in a novice stakes at Saratoga in July.

* Chuckie Lopez, sidelined since May with a fractured left heel, is slated to return Saturday. Lopez, Monmouth's leading rider in 1998, resumed galloping horses this week.