06/16/2006 12:00AM

Joey P. in tougher company


Joey P., the popular New Jersey-bred, steps back into open company Sunday in the $60,000 Longfellow Stakes at Monmouth Park.

The Longfellow tops an 11-race card that includes the debut of Monmouth's new $6 million turf course.

Joey P. won a lot of fans last summer as a 3-year-old with his victory in the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup Stakes and his brave but failed attempt in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.

Owner John Petrini made a trainer change over the winter, shifting Joey P. from Frank Costa to Ben Perkins Jr. Joey P. has made one start for the new barn, a hard-fought half-length win in Monmouth's John J. Reilly Handicap against New Jersey-breds on May 27 with regular rider Joe Bravo aboard.

"The last race was a good tightener for him, a nice strength-builder," Bravo said. "He had to work the whole race. That should be a good foundation for things to come."

Now comes the 5 1/2-furlong Longfellow against a much stronger lineup that includes Kazoo, a front-running winner of the Grade 3 Toboggan Handicap over Aqueduct's inner track in March, and Slam Bammy, the gate-to-wire winner of Monmouth's Decathlon Stakes on the opening weekend.

In the $60,000 Bernie Dowd Handicap for New Jersey-breds, the supporting feature on Monmouth's Sunday card, Jersey Giant makes his first start in 16 months.

The gelding, now 7, shows a steady work tab at Monmouth in preparation for his return in this mile and 70-yard race.

"He's come back surprisingly good," said trainer Jim Ryerson. "We attempted to get him in earlier spots, but the races haven't filled. It's as good a spot as any to start him back."

Jersey Giant suffered an injury in the 2004 Ben Ali Stakes at Keeneland. After a break until November, he returned to run four more times, never finishing better than fourth, before heading to the bench for the lengthy recuperation.

Back in the summer of 2003, Jersey Giant was a major player in Monmouth's Grade 3 handicap stakes. He was second, beaten three-quarters of a length, in the Salvator Mile, and third by one length in the Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap.

In the Dowd, Jersey Giant takes on nine rivals including Upturn, who won this race by 6 3/4 lengths last year.

* The new turf course debuts in the second race, with a full field of 10 for a $25,000 claiming race at 1 1/16 miles.