07/05/2013 1:45PM

Monmouth Park: Micromanage on way up entering the Long Branch Stakes

Barbara D. Livingston
Micromanage looks to be an improving horse coming into Sunday's Long Branch Stakes.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – Todd Pletcher had high hopes for Micromanage, especially after the colt easily won his debut at the tail end of last year’s Saratoga season.

When those expectations didn’t pan out after the initial victory, the $170,000 yearling purchase by the Repole Stable was given an extended vacation.

Micromanage can rekindle that early optimism Sunday at Monmouth Park in the $100,000 Long Branch Stakes at 1 1/16 miles for 3-year-olds.

The Long Branch is the final local prep for the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational on July 28. The Long Branch winner – and any other standout performers in the race – are invited to the meet’s premier event.

Pletcher already has the likely Haskell favorite in Verrazano, an easy winner of Monmouth’s Grade 3 Pegasus Stakes last month.

Verrazano is 5 for 6 in a stellar career, including the Grade 1 Wood Memorial. His lone loss was a 14th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby.

“Everything is on go,” Pletcher said when asked about Verrazano and the Haskell.

[MONMOUTH PARK: Get Long Branch PPs, watch Sunday's card live]

Perhaps Micromanage also will join the Haskell party.

After his first win, Micromanage ran fifth in the Grade 1 Champagne and was the distant trailer in the Grade 2 Remsen.

Pletcher then hit the pause button.

“We feel like we’re back on course with him,” Pletcher said. “We thought a lot of him last fall, but he disappointed us a little bit, especially the Remsen. We stopped on him, gave him some time off. There was nothing wrong with him. It looks like it paid off. He’s come back and is starting to meet our expectations.”

Micromanage rallied in the final strides to win his comeback, a first-level allowance race over a sloppy track here on opening day. He followed that with a rallying second to Power Broker – a Bob Baffert-trained Grade 1 winner – in the Easy Goer on the Belmont Stakes undercard.

“We thought his Easy Goer was a step forward,” Pletcher said. “Hopefully, he’s on the improve.”

Joe Bravo has the mount.

Pletcher also sends out Forever Thing who landed here when an allowance race did not fill.

“We’re kind of taking a shot with Forever Thing,” Pletcher said. “We decided to test the waters a little bit and see what happens.”

Chris DeCarlo will ride. The two Pletcher entrants are uncoupled for betting purposes.

Bob and the Gang is best local-based runner. A gray colt trained by Pat McBurney, Bob and the Gang has won two in a row, both at Monmouth.

He stretched out for the first time and easily captured an allowance race in his latest effort.

The key, according to McBurney, is that Bob and the Gang finally learned to relax and trust jockey Paco Lopez.

“He would not listen to a jock,” McBurney said “He was just go, go, go. He fought the jockey in his first races. He was very intense but now the jock has kind of figured him out, and he’s now listening to the jock.”