07/25/2014 11:52AM

Pants On Fire returns to defend Cup title

Nikki Sherman
Pants On Fire will race for the first time in nearly eight months Sunday in the Monmouth Cup on the Haskell Invitational undercard at Monmouth Park.

OCEANPORT, N.J. – It was a fruitless journey to Japan for Pants On Fire and a long trail back to the races.

Pants On Fire finally launches his comeback Sunday in the Grade 2, $200,000 Monmouth Cup on the Haskell Invitational undercard. He won this 1 1/16-mile race last year in a 7-1 upset and followed up with a victory in the Grade 3 Ack Ack Handicap, posting a career-best 107 Beyer Speed Figure. But his season ended on a downswing.

Pants On Fire ran seventh in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile before heading overseas to finish last Dec. 1 in the Grade 1 Japan Cup Dirt. It’s taken this long for trainer Kelly Breen to get the 2011 Louisiana Derby winner fit and ready for a 2014 campaign.

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“He’s doing really well,” Breen said. “He looks really good. I’m excited to see him coming back this year.”

As for the Japan trip, Breen said, “I don’t regret it. You have to live and learn. There are things maybe we would do differently. I’m just happy the horse came back healthy.”

Pants On Fire, 6, has post 2 in the 10-horse field assembled for the race formerly known as the Meadowlands Cup.

Key contenders

Pants On Fire (Last 3 Beyers: 82-107-98)

* The defending champion hasn’t run in almost eight months and shows four workouts in preparation for the comeback.

* “He’s fit. He’s ready. He has run some of his best races off layoffs,” Breen said.

* Pants On Fire has won a stakes here in each of the last three seasons: last year’s Monmouth Cup, the 2012 Skip Away, and the 2011 Pegasus.

Micromanage (Last 3 Beyers: 89-101-95)

* He won Monmouth’s Long Branch Stakes last year before finishing a distant third to stablemate Verrazano in the Haskell. His best efforts this season have come at longer distances, including a win in the 1 3/16-mile, Grade 3 Skip Away at Gulfstream Park and a neck loss in the 1 1/2-mile Brooklyn at Belmont.

* Trainer Todd Pletcher holds the stakes record with three wins: Rule (2012), Master Command (2006), and Balto Star (2004).

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Bradester (Last 3 Beyers: 99-85-66)

* Finished a game second behind the Whitney Handicap-bound Itsmyluckyday in the Salvator Mile here earlier this month.

* Bradester owns a 4-1-0 mark in seven races at this 1 1/16-mile distance.

DRF FORMULATOR FACT: No. 7 Easter Gift. Trainer Chad Brown is 7 for 12 with a $2.80 ROI over the past two years in dirt routes following a layoff of at least 180 days. Click for more details. Dan Illman

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