06/16/2010 11:00PM

Monmouth roundup



The Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes seemed like a perfect spot to take a shot against the speedy Presious Passion. He was making his first start since Dubai, which has resulted in a "bounce" for many horses. The race was at 1 1/8 miles, which is a little shorter than he wants to go. Trainer Mary Hartmann has bigger things in mind for him this summer, such as the Grade 1 United Nations. Finally, Get Serious, a speed-type just like Presious Passion, was on the rail.

Get Serious seemed likely to take Presious Passion, a multiple Grade 1 winner, off his best game by running with him early, setting up the closers. But a couple of things happened along the way. One was a speed-favoring turf course. The other was Get Serious.

"If Presious Passion sent, we were going to back off," said John Forbes, the trainer of Get Serious.

That didn't happen. Get Serious and Presious Passion were head and head early on, but it was Get Serious who opened a clear lead down the backstretch and into the turn, and he sustained his advantage to the wire. Roman Tiger made a determined late run at Get Serious in the lane and seemed poised to go by, but even after the early pace battle Get Serious had something left.

"That horse is really something," said Joe Bravo, who rode Roman Tiger. "When I got to Get Serious at the eighth pole, he rebroke as soon as he smelled us."

Don't write off Presious Passion yet. He earned an 81 Beyer for his effort in the Monmouth Stakes, decidedly below par for him but very close to the 82 he earned in last year's W.L. McKnight at Calder, another race where he weakened after facing early pressure. Following that race, he came back to win the Grade 2 Mac Diarmida, in which he returned to his free-wheeling, front-running tactics. Expect him to do just that in his next try this summer.


Get Serious is hardly the only front-runner to run a big race over the grass here. We finally got a little rain in the area last week, but it didn't do much to slow down the course. Starfish Bay set a local record for 5 1/2 furlongs on the grass Sunday, when she stopped the timer in 1:00.76, easily besting the old record of 1:01, set by Terrific Challenge on Sept. 10, 2006.

There aren't many races run at this distance, and Starfish Bay is a nice turf sprinter, but the fact she shattered the mark by over a fifth of a second while well within herself says a lot about the speed of the course.

"I think she could have gone faster," said winning jockey John Velazquez, "but I wanted to save something for next time."

In light of this effort, and Mandurah's front-running world record two weeks ago, bet closers at your own risk on this closely cut turf course.


Last weekend, beginning Friday, trainer Jason Servis saddled six horses, five here and one at Philadelphia Park, and won with four of them. Among the winners was N J Esq, who hadn't been out since an easy maiden win in December at the Meadowlands. N J Esq was well regarded by her connections from the start. Servis entered her in the NJ Futurity Stakes in her debut, and she nearly pulled it off, finishing third by a head.

N J Esq was poised to make her return May 29, but she didn't get into the race after landing on the also-eligible list. Servis entered her back in last Saturday's 11th race, an N1X sprint for New Jersey-bred fillies and mares, and though she wasn't at 100 percent and was caught up in a contested pace, NJ Esq held off the closing Silent Empress, who was 10 lengths clear for the place.

"I almost scratched her out of there," said Servis, who has four wins at the meet, tied for fourth in the trainer standings. "After she was on the also-eligibles a few weeks back and didn't get in, she started coughing, and I just didn't like the way she was acting. Just nothing was going right. So she didn't breeze for three weeks, but she was okay, and how do you scratch when you're even money for an $81,000 race?"

Servis says he will be cautious with N J Esq. Her health is not an issue − "She came out of the race pretty good," he said − but the purse structure at the 2010 Monmouth meet is such that she wouldn't lose much by simply trying to move through her allowance conditions, rather than push her into statebred stakes company. An N2X sprint for New Jersey-bred fillies and mares carries a purse of $81,300 at Monmouth this year.

"We'll probably stay with the allowance races, and we'll go from there," he said. "The money is so good, and the stakes aren't worth all that much more at $100,000. And I think she'll go long, so we'll have some options.


Gunfighter, the impressive statebred N1X winner here Memorial Day weekend, is likely to try routing for his next start. Trainer Tony Dutrow said Gunfighter, who has won his last two starts impressively after losing three straight when he started his career last year, has put it all together in 2010.

"He's just matured, and he's just kind of figured it all out," said Dutrow, who, as usual, is winning at a very high rate (26 percent) this year.

Though Gunfighter has never been beyond 6 1/2 furlongs, Dutrow is pointing him to an N2X race for Jersey-breds going a mile and 70 yards July 5. Dutrow said he expects Gunfighter, a son of Iron Deputy, to handle two turns.

"We're ready to experiment with a longer distance," Dutrow said. "He's bred for it. I don't see why he wouldn't handle the distance. I'm hopeful that he'll be as impressive going long as he's been going short."

Gunfighter's maiden win at Philadelphia Park two back, incidentally, has turned into a key race. The runner-up, Dark Thunder, won here last Saturday, posting an 88 Beyer, and the third-place finisher, Safety Check, broke his maiden at Belmont Park, winning by seven lengths and earning a 95 Beyer.



Trainer: Graham Motion

Last race: June 12, 3rd

Finish: 4th by 15 3/4

Landed in a tough spot in the Skip Away Stakes, which lacked pace. He's at his best when he's able to make a late run, and the pace scenario clearly worked against him here. He'll rebound if given a better setup next time.

Speightful Kiss

Trainer: Ben Perkins Jr.

Last race: June 13, 1st

Finish: 4th by 8 1/4

He took some money for his debut, but a slow start cost him his best chance. He did well to close for fourth, however, and he has the pedigree and connections to suggest he'll be able to break his maiden as a juvenile.

Mother Russia

Trainer: Linda Rice

Last race: June 13, 10th

Finish: 4th by 4 1/4

From a barn that specializes in turf sprinters, this filly was caught too far off the pace to catch the winner, who set a course record after setting the early pace on a loose lead. She did close very well, however, and she figures to run down the right field given a forward trip next time.