08/18/2011 3:07PM

Monmouth: Chirac looks for spark in Iselin


OCEANPORT, N.J. − For Chirac, the Grade 3, $250,000 Philip H. Iselin Stakes on Saturday is an opportunity to recapture past glory. For his seven rivals, it is an opportunity to make a statement in the older horse ranks.

The summer of 2009 was a magical time for Chirac, who dramatically emerged on the Monmouth scene with four wins, including the 1 1/8-mile Iselin by 6 3/4 lengths for trainer Jane Cibelli

Since then, Chirac has battled injuries and undergone two barn changes. Now 6, he will be making his first start for the training team of John Forbes and Pat McBurney.

This year, owner Pia Kirkham sent Chirac to Juan Carlos Guerrero, the leading trainer at Parx Racing. Chirac ran twice there this season, winning a claiming race before tiring badly in the 1 1/2-mile Greenwood Cup.

With Parx taking its annual August break, Kirkham opted to send Chirac back to Monmouth, where he is 5-1-4 in 12 starts.

“There was an allowance race we were supposed to have him ready for, but he had an abscess come out of a foot,” McBurney said. “He’s been back training, and he’s probably not as tight as he could be, but the owner wanted to take a chance on the Iselin. He’s had some issues the last couple of years, but, knock on wood, he seems to be doing awfully good right now. Whether he sticks around or heads back to Parx will depend on how he does.”

Forbes and McBurney have a second runner in the field, Southern Ridge, a 4-year-old looking for his first stakes victory.

Two starts back, Southern Ridge cruised to a first-level win with a 91 Beyer Speed Figure. Next up, he was part of the early pace in the Majestic Light Stakes, the Iselin prep on the Haskell Day undercard, before finishing fifth.

“He got pinned down and never could get running,” McBurney said. “We are hoping it was a combination of being a little too fresh off a big effort and his losing a couple of points off his big allowance race win. We’re hoping for a good clean trip so he can show us what he can do.”

Pleasant Prince will be looking for his first stakes win against older horses. Last season at 3, Pleasant Prince won the Oklahoma Derby and the Ohio Derby and missed by a nose in the Florida Derby. He rallied to win a third-level allowance here last month for trainer Wesley Ward.

Cam Gambolati has vivid memories of the 1985 Iselin, in which Spend a Buck set the track record of 1:46.80, which still stands.

Gambolati toyed with running Soaring Empire in the Iselin before deciding this race didn’t fit the long-term goal of making the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile. So Gambolati is reaching into the bench for Dueling Alex, a 5-year-old gelding who is 3 for 20.

“Since he’s come up from Florida, he’s trained superior,” Gambolati said. “We decided to take this chance. I think it’s a very competitive race, but it’s not overpowering.”

Completing the field are Alma d’Oro, winner of the Carpenter Memorial at Delaware Park; Where’s Sterling; Ponzi Scheme; and Cactus Charlie.

◗ Ward will be looking for a stakes double with Black Rhino, fourth in the Grade 2 Sanford at Saratoga, in the $65,000 Continental Mile for 2-year-olds on the turf. Ward also cross-entered first-time starter Politicallycorrect here and in a maiden race Saturday at Saratoga.