05/26/2011 3:13PM

Monmouth's Reilly features fan favorite Joey P.


OCEANPORT, N.J. − The New Jersey boys of summer will assemble once again for the $65,000 John J. Reilly Handicap, even though some are now decidedly long in the tooth.

The Reilly shares top billing Saturday at Monmouth Park with the $70,000 Lamplighter for 3-year-olds on the turf. The 12-race card kicks off the Memorial Day weekend, which includes cards Sunday and Monday. First post is 12:50 p.m. on all three days.

A six-furlong race for statebreds, the Reilly is an early-season fixture at Monmouth and the first major event for New Jersey-breds since last fall.

It wouldn’t be a Reilly without return appearances by Joey P. and Who’s the Cowboy, a pair of 9-year-old gelded warhorses who have had success here over the years.

Joey P., one of the most popular horses on the grounds, is 13-7-1 in 26 main-track appearances at Monmouth. A career winner of $1,063,667, he will be making his fifth Reilly start, having won the stakes in 2006, 2008, and 2009. He was second last year to Unwritten, who returns to defend his Reilly title.

This will be third start of the year for Joey P, and his first since a pair of early-season races at Gulfstream Park. He showed spring in the old legs by winning a second-level optional claimer for a $62,000 tag Jan. 14. Joey P. ran back less than a month later one level higher and didn’t fire.

Trainer Ben Perkins, Jr. laid him up following that race with the Reilly in mind.

“We probably ran him back a little quick,” Perkins said. “He ran so strong in the win, it probably took a little more out of him than we realized, even though you really didn’t see it.”

Perkins said he would love to see Joey P. turn back the clock one more time in the Reilly.

“As we get older, we all change,” he said. “His soundness has always been real good. He still comes to hand very quickly. You don’t have to train him too much. He gets himself ready. He’s some horse.”

Regular rider Joe Bravo will be aboard from post 10 in the 11-horse field.

Who’s the Cowboy could be the next New Jersey-bred to crack $1 million in career earnings. He is less than $19,000 away, so a Reilly win would easily clear the milestone.

Who’s the Cowboy, 12-6-5 in 40 races at Monmouth, is looking for his first Reilly win in his sixth try.

Who’s the Cowboy is 1-1-3 in six races this year, all as a claimer at Aqueduct or Belmont. This will be his debut for trainer Peter Walder who got the horse recently when Island Wind Racing decided to return Who’s the Cowboy to New Jersey.

Small field set for Lamplighter

Only six horses were entered in the Lamplighter, a 1 1/16-mile race on the turf. Tech Fall is in for the main-track only.

Crimson China is the likely favorite. A rallying fifth most recently in the Grade 1 Blue Grass Stakes on the synthetic track at Keeneland, he hails from the Animal Kingdom team of owner Team Valor and trainer H. Graham Motion. Crimson China won his only race on grass, a first-level allowance at Gulfstream.

The small field swayed trainer Cam Gambolati to run Le Bon Ton Roule in this spot instead of a first-level race.

“He’s a pretty decent horse, and he does like the grass,” Gambolati said. “I assume he’ll be on the lead or laying second. He’ll carry them a long way. If we can slow it down enough, maybe we’ll get lucky.”