05/31/2010 12:00AM

Maram starts season with high hopes


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Chad Brown believes Maram has the potential to be a Grade 1 winner. The lightly raced 4-year-old can take a step in that direction Monday at Monmouth Park in the Grade 3, $150,000 Eatontown Handicap for fillies and mares on the turf.

The Eatontown, the first graded stakes of the Monmouth meet, tops a 12-race holiday card that also includes the $100,000 Just Smashing Stakes for 3-year-old filly sprinters.

Maram already has a Breeders' Cup win on her resume, the 2008 Juvenile Fillies Turf at Santa Anita.

That victory helped put Brown, a former assistant to Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, on the map and established Maram as an emerging force in the division.

It never happened last year as Maram suffered what Brown describes as her "fair share of problems."

There was nothing major, Brown said, but enough to limit her to three starts. She won an overnight stakes at Saratoga in her first race of the season, which concluded with another trip to the Breeders' Cup, a sixth-place finish in the Filly and Mare Turf.

"We were playing catch-up, trying to get her there," Brown said. "In hindsight, we probably rushed her a bit and ran her over her head. We're going to spot her around a little differently this year.

"I think she has Group 1 potential. It's a matter of figuring out what races, and how we get her there."

The Eatontown is the first stop on that mission.

"I think the Eatontown is a perfect fit for the first race back, just to gauge where we're at with her," Brown said.

"She couldn't be training better. We've just let her mature, and she's in great form right now. She's ready right now, and this race was a fit. I'm very, very happy with her."

Jose Lezcano, aboard for her last five races, has the return call.

Gypsy's Warning is an interesting newcomer, a 5-year-old from South Africa making her U.S. debut.

She compiled a record of 5-0-5 in 11 starts in her native land, including a Group 1 victory. Graham Motion trains Gypsy's Warning, and Jose Valdivia Jr. will ride.

The field also includes My Princess Jess, a multiple graded stakes winner, Eye of Taurus, Omega Cat, and Scolara.

Akilina was cross-entered in the Mount Vernon Stakes for New York-bred fillies and mares on Sunday at Belmont Park.

* Midst, a sensation on synthetics, tries dirt for the first time in the six-furlong Just Smashing.

The winner of the My Dear Stakes last year at Woodbine, Midst blistered Keeneland's Polytrack in her 2010 debut. She was an overpowering 5 1/4-length winner in a second-level optional claimer, earning a 100 Beyer Speed Figure.

Unbeaten in the three races since running second in her debut, Midst has the outside post in the six-horse field. Garrett Gomez will be back aboard for Todd Pletcher, who took over the training of Midst this season.

* One of the toughest races of the day is a $90,000 money allowance and optional $80,000 claimer on the turf, the eighth race on the card. The lineup includes Get Serious, 6 for 8 on the Monmouth turf including a win in the Grade 3 Red Bank last year, and Ever a Friend, winner of the Grade 1 Kilroe Handicap at Santa Anita in 2008.