07/31/2015 11:47AM

Kharafa capable of handling class rise in Oceanport

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
The 6-year-old New York-bred Kharafa, winning the Elkwood Stakes in his first start at Monmouth, fits well bidding for his first graded stakes victory in the Grade 3 Oceanport.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Kharafa has spent the majority of the last two years butting heads with the likes of King Kreesa and Lubash in the rugged New York-bred turf division. During that time, he has won the Mohawk, the Kingston, and the Ashley T. Cole for statebreds, plus two smaller open stakes.

On Sunday, Kharafa has an excellent chance to win the first graded stakes of his career in the $150,000 Oceanport Stakes at Monmouth Park.

Now 6, Kharafa has been a mainstay in the barn of trainer Tim Hills since 2011. Although he started his career by going 1 for 7, he has steadily improved each season and is now 10 for 28 with more than $750,000 in earnings.

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He began this season by winning a third-level allowance race at Keeneland and then finishing second to 14-time winner Lubash in the Kingston Stakes at Belmont Park.

Kharafa showed his toughness last out by overcoming a nightmare trip to win the Elkwood Stakes at Monmouth. In traffic almost from the beginning of the one-mile race while saving ground, Kharafa was checked hard on the far turn and dropped back to 10th in the 11-horse field. He re-rallied into the stretch but was stopped again in midstretch. Jockey Paco Lopez found a seam late, and Kharafa shot through it to win a five-horse blanket finish by a neck.

That effort should set him up perfectly for the Grade 3 Oceanport, a 1 1/16-mile turf race.

Oceanport Stakes, race 11

Key contenders

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Kharafa (Last 3 Beyers: 98-96-98)

◗ Although Kharafa has been based at Monmouth each summer since 2011, the Elkwood was his first race here.

Heart to Heart (Last 3 Beyers: 87-100-88)

◗ Could prove to be the controlling speed for trainer Brian Lynch.

◗ Finished second by a half-length to Winning Cause in the Grade 3 Red Bank in May while making his Monmouth debut. The one-mile Red Bank was timed in a sharp 1:32.27.

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Lochte (Last 3 Beyers: 97-92-78)

◗ He finished well to be second, beaten a neck, by Kharafa in the Elkwood. He was wide into the stretch that day but otherwise had a clean trip. The Elkwood was a fast-early (45.16-second half-mile), slow-late (1:34.39 mile) race, with the second half-mile going in 49.23 seconds, which may have helped set up his late bid.

Cage Fighter (Last 3 Beyers: 93-92-91)

◗ Cage Fighter has always run well with time between races and comes into this off an eight-week break. Expect a top effort.

Old Time Hockey (Last 3 Beyers: 84-87-93)

◗ Deep closer just missed catching Lochte in the Tampa Bay Stakes in January. He doesn’t win often but tries hard and is the type of horse who can add juice to the exotic payoffs.