07/23/2006 11:00PM

Park Avenue Ball sharp in prep for Iselin

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Time off over the winter helped Park Avenue Ball grow and mature. The fruits of that rest have been impressive so far this season at Monmouth Park.

The 4-year-old Park Avenue Ball is 2 for 3 in stakes this meet, with the lone loss a rallying second behind Flower Alley, the Travers winner and Breeders' Cup Classic runner-up, in the Salvator Mile.

The latest win last Sunday was one of the New Jersey-bred Park Avenue Ball's most impressive. He took charge early and rolled to a dominant five-length victory in the Skip Away Stakes, the prep for the Grade 3, $250,000 Philip Iselin Stakes here on Aug. 19.

"He came out of the race great," said trainer Jim Ryerson. "We couldn't be happier. I think at this time, the Iselin is where we're headed."

Park Avenue Ball had a solid season here last year, easily winning the Grade 3 Long Branch BC Stakes before running third in the Grade 1 Haskell.

"He had a hard grind last year at 3," Ryerson said. "He fought some health issues and allergies last year. Stopping and giving him a rest in Ocala for a couple of months really helped him."

Ryerson noticed the difference when Park Avenue Ball returned from the vacation.

"He came back physically stronger," Ryerson said. "That was his longest break since he came to the racetrack. Now he seems like a much stronger horse overall. He's thicker and he's carrying more weight, and that helps him recover from his efforts."

Park Avenue Ball could find Skip Away runner-up Indy Wind awaiting him in the Iselin.

Indy Wind, also 4, was making only his fifth start and first in a stakes.

Owner-trainer Amy Tarrant was pleased with the effort by Indy Wind, who was 3 for 4 in his injury-hampered career heading into the Skip Away.

"It was the first real workout of his life in a race," Tarrant said. "He got a lot out of the race. I was pleased with his effort. He showed me a lot in the race, but he's got more work to do."

Indy Wind burst on the scene last summer with a pair of impressive wins before heading to the sidelines with a hairline fracture of the right front ankle.

"I am debating the Iselin," Tarrant said. "I haven't made up my mind totally, yet."

Allowance sets up for Pickin Laurel

Pickin Laurel has been knocking on the door this season with three seconds in three starts.

The 4-year-old Pickin Laurel could finally break through Wednesday in Monmouth's featured $40,000 second-level allowance for fillies and mares at six furlongs.

Pickin Laurel, a homebred for the Sleeter family, is a closing sprinter who should have plenty of pace to chase, courtesy of a pair of New York shippers: Sleeping and Faster Tapper.

Sleeping, trained by Gary Contessa, most recently rolled to an eight-length win in a claimer for 3-year-old fillies at Belmont Park. Her best efforts have come when she has been on or close to the lead.

Faster Tapper was claimed by Frank Laboccetta for $35,000 at Aqueduct in April. She was a strong pacesetting winner in a first-level allowance race at Belmont in her debut for the new barn and most recently was a tiring fourth in the slop in second-level allowance.

While those two dictate the pace, Pickin Laurel, with the outside post in the six-horse field, will be biding her time under Felix Ortiz.

"I think she likes the outside," said owner Gerry Sleeter. "That favors her a little bit. She gets herself together and tries to pounce."

Pickin Laurel should be sharp following a bullet three-furlong work in 35 seconds last Thursday.