06/15/2012 12:04PM

Monmouth Park: Good Morning Diva has speed to chase in Pegasus Stakes

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Tom Keyser
Good Morning Diva will be making his second start for trainer Tim Hills in the Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Tim Hills has been a fixture at Monmouth Park since the mid 1990s, winning training titles here in 2002 and 2004. In that time, Hills has never had a runner in the meet’s premier event, the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational for 3-year-olds.

That could change this season, thanks to Good Morning Diva.

The Monmouth road to the Haskell starts Sunday with the Grade 3, $100,000 Pegasus Stakes. The Pegasus, long a mainstay at the Meadowlands Racetrack, and Long Branch on July 8 are the local preps leading to the Haskell on July 29.

Good Morning Diva will be making his second start for Hills. The colt, previously trained by David Braddy, shipped north following a game win in the rained-off Calder Derby.

“Dave Braddy originally planned on travelling with the horse, but he had an illness in the family,” Hills said. “He very kindly recommended me to the owners.”

It turned into a New England connection. Good Morning Diva is owned by George J. Kerr from Maine; Hills hails from New Hampshire.

Good Morning Diva will remain with Hills for the summer.

“Whether he’s Haskell material, we’ll see,” Hills said. “That’s probably a reach, but we’ll take it race to race. And there are very few opportunities for a horse like him at Calder.”

Good Morning Diva’s first race for Hills was a rallying fourth in the Grade 2 Peter Pan at Belmont Park.

“It was kind of a learning experience,” Hills said. “He got shuffled back behind a hot pace and he ate a ton of dirt. At the quarter pole, I thought he would be last, or maybe eased.”

Once Julien Leparoux swung Good Morning Diva to the far outside, the colt started running.

“I was really surprised by that,” Hills said. “I was pleased by that. He was absolutely drowned in dirt. We scoped him after the race, and there was nothing wrong other than a ton of dirt down his trachea.”

Conditions look far more favorable for the Pegasus. The field is not as deep as the Peter Pan. Good Morning Diva drew the outside post against six rivals. And there will again be plenty of speed, thanks to Innocent Man.

Trainer Patrick Biancone will be stretching out the lightning-quick gelding for the first time following a brutal trip in the Chick Lang Stakes on the Preakness undercard as the 11-10 favorite.

Innocent Man stumbled at the break and got knocked about before rushing up to set a pressured pace. He settled for third, his first career defeat following a pair of victories at Santa Anita.

◗ Inspired makes her sixth straight appearance in a stakes as a key player, and likely pacesetter, in $60,000 Fort Monmouth, the supporting feature for filly and mare turf sprinters. Third most recently in The Very One at Pimlico, Inspired’s finest moment came last season in a neck victory in the Jenny Wade Handicap at Penn National.