05/16/2013 11:09AM

Monmouth Park: Two Notch Road back for Red Bank Stakes after extended layoff

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Two of the most logical contenders in Saturday’s Grade 3, $100,000 Red Bank Stakes at Monmouth Park have been away from the races for a while. Za Approval has been idle since winning his first career stakes in the Grade 3 Appleton on March 30. Tune Me In, a two-time Grade 3 winner at Monmouth last season, will be making his first start since December.

Their absences are nowhere near as lengthy as that of Two Notch Road, a 6-year-old whose last race was in early October of his 3-year-old season.

Dismiss Two Notch Road at your own risk, however. As a maiden in his third lifetime start, Two Notch Road upset Monmouth’s Continental Mile on turf at 107-1. Coincidentally, the Red Bank is also a one-mile grass race.

So can lightning strike twice for Two Notch Road? Trainer Glenn Thompson sure hopes so. Thompson, who owns Two Notch Road in partnership with Virginia breeder Jim Hackman, has been patient with the gelding since he bowed a tendon. Thompson gave Two Notch Road a full year off, then after bringing him back into training, noticed heat in the same tendon, so he extended the horse’s vacation for another year.

Two Notch Road began galloping at Thompson’s winter headquarters in Aiken, S.C., last November and has not hit any roadblocks while preparing for his comeback after 2  1/2 years on the sidelines.

“I know it’s asking a lot of him,” Thompson admitted when asked about bringing back Two Notch Road in a Grade 3 stakes. “But I’m a shoot-for-the-moon kind of guy. He might need a race. But he’s a special horse and I think he’ll run well.”

As a 3-year-old, Two Notch Road was good enough to set the pace and hang on for third in the Grade 2 Colonial Turf Cup at 1 3/16 miles. He was also fourth after owning a five-length lead a mile into the Grade 2, 1 1/4-mile Virginia Derby and within a head of the lead after the first mile of the Grade 1, 1 1/4-mile Jamaica Handicap in his most recent start, in October 2010.

Za Approval will seek to win his second straight Grade 3 event after finishing his final quarter-mile in Gulfstream’s Appleton in a quick 22.89 seconds. His trainer, Christophe Clement, is 4 for 10 the past five years in graded turf stakes at Monmouth.

Tune Me In won the Oceanport and Cliff Hanger in back-to-back starts last season for trainer Bruce Alexander. But he didn’t get good until he made the third start of his form cycle following a layoff of nearly six months, so he may not be ready to fire fresh.