05/22/2008 12:00AM

Plesa brings his best north

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Eddie Plesa Jr. is a member of the Calder Race Course Hall of Fame and still maintains a substantial stable at the south Florida track.

But after Calder has been hit with recent purse reductions and a reduced stakes program, Plesa will spend more time this summer at Monmouth Park.

Plesa has run a New Jersey division the past several seasons. This year, Plesa beefed up the Monmouth operation with 40 horses in the conveniently located barn that once housed D. Wayne Lukas's string.

"I'm stronger in New Jersey than I was numbers-wise, and my numbers have stayed about the same at Calder," Plesa said. "Needless to say, the best horses have come up here."

The top runners include Gottcha Gold and Hey Byrn, both of whom saw action last weekend at Pimlico.

Gottcha Gold, the top older dirt horse last summer at Monmouth, was a game second in the Grade 1 Pimlico Special, nailed in the final strides by Student Council.

"He ran a fantastic race," Plesa said. "Unfortunately, he didn't win. The horse that beat him came in the middle of the racetrack. I don't think he had an opportunity to see him. We were as proud of him as we can be. He got a placing in a Grade 1 race, so that speaks volumes for him."

The 5-year-old Gottcha Gold swept both of Monmouth's Grade 3 dirt handicaps last season, the Salvator Mile and the Iselin. Those races were his springboard to the Breeders' Cup at Monmouth, where he ran second in the inaugural Dirt Mile over an extremely sloppy track.

"He still has the enthusiasm for training that he exhibited all along," Plesa said. "He is an aggressive type of horse who enjoys what he is doing. To maintain that over a period of time says a lot about him."

The immediate goal: another crack at the Salvator Mile on July 5. This year, the Salvator is a Breeders' Cup Challenge race with a Win and You're In berth for this year's Dirt Mile.

The plans are less clear for Hey Byrn following his seventh-place finish in the Preakness.

"We're going to see what our options are," Plesa said. "Needless to say, we're not going into the Belmont. We'll look for something for him, but he should be ready to run in no time at all."

One option down the road is Monmouth's $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 3.

"Is it something that I'd like to run in? Absolutely, because I think of myself as a New Jersey person now," Plesa said. "Needless to say, you'd like to run on your home court. It would be great if we could. It's not devastating if we can't."

Plesa may need a new rider when Gottcha Gold and Hey Byrn next run. Regular pilot Chuckie Lopez sustained a broken heel in a training mishap Monday at Monmouth and will be sidelined about six weeks, according to his agent, Jim Riccio.

Gambolati is a Big Brown fan

Cam Gambolati had an early seat on the Big Brown bandwagon.

"I watched him train every day all winter at Palm Meadows," Gambolati said. "It's not just his talent but his makeup, too. He went to the racetrack every day just like an old horse and nothing ever bothered him.

"He is the real deal. You've got the unknown deal in the Japanese horse [Casino Drive], and I'm sure he's a very nice horse. At this point, if Big Brown is 100 percent, you will see a Triple Crown winner."

Gambolati's perspective carries weight, since he saddled a Kentucky Derby winner - Spend a Buck in 1985.

Buffalo Man and Princess Janie, two of Gambolati's top current runners, should turn up soon in Monmouth stakes.

Buffalo Man, a distant eighth in the Dixie Stakes, might switch back to the main track for the Salvator Mile.

Princess Janie, a multiple stakes winner here last summer, is on target for the Blue Sparkler on June 22. The 4-year-old Princess Janie won a third-level allowance last time out at Gulfstream Park on March 27. She nicked her left front ankle in the race, a problem Gambolati describes as "chronic."