06/30/2005 11:00PM

Lopez, Brunilda a fine team


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Sometimes a less-obvious combination works best, as trainer Stanley Hough discovered with Chuck Lopez and Brunilda.

Hough, not looking to tinker with success, will keep the team together for the Grade 3, $150,000 Eatontown Handicap Sunday at Monmouth Park.

Lopez is one of the best main-track speed riders on the New Jersey circuit, while Brunilda is a 5-year-old turf mare with a reputation of being headstrong.

Lopez and Brunilda clicked beautifully in their first collaboration, winning the Fort Monmouth Stakes on May 30. Lopez persuaded the Argentinean mare to relax and wait for an opportunity. They wound up in snug quarters rounding the turn before finding room to get up for a half-length win.

"Chuckie rode her really, really well," Hough said. "Since I've had her, we've tried to get her to relax. The times we've been able to run off the pace, she's done well."

Hough took over the mare's training this year. The Fort Monmouth was her first victory in four starts for the new barn.

will carry 116 pounds in the 1 1/16-mile Eatontown, while River Belle is the starting highweight at 119 pounds.

, who started her career in England, made a smooth transition to the United States last year with a record of 2-0-2 in 4 starts. Her finest moment was a nose victory in the Grade 2 Mrs. Revere Stakes at Churchill Downs in November.

River Belle, trained by Todd Pletcher, has not approached that form this season, with fourth- and fifth-place finishes in a pair of Grade 3 stakes. Chris DeCarlo, Pletcher's main rider at Monmouth, will be aboard River Belle for the first time.

Pletcher also entered Freei as a main-track runner in the event the race comes off the turf.

Pletcher won last year's Eatontown with Ocean Drive.

, trained by Christophe Clement, is making her season debut. She won 2 of 4 U.S. starts last year, including the Grade 2 Lake Placid Handicap at Saratoga. She was assigned 118 pounds, with Joe Bravo, Monmouth's leading jockey, set to ride.

Stewart Elliott will ride Fortunate Damsel for trainer Billy Turner. The winner of the Grade 3 Pebbles Stakes at Belmont Park in October, Fortunate Damsel ran fifth at long odds this season in both the Grade 3 Beaugay Handicap at Aqueduct and the Grade 2 Just a Game Breeders' Cup Handicap at Belmont.

Dark Plume, Emerald Earrings, Lentil, Smart N Classy, Twist and Pop, Vallera, With Affection, and Literacy complete the field.

Twist and Pop was also entered as a main-track runner.