08/25/2005 11:00PM

Purge looking cool for Iselin

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Purge could emerge as a force within the handicap ranks when he faces nine rivals Sunday in the Grade 3, $250,000 Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park.

Purge, trained by Todd Pletcher, has shown flashes of talent. The 4-year-old colt won a pair of Grade 2 stakes last year: the Peter Pan at Belmont Park and the Jim Dandy at Saratoga.

At times, Purge, a high-strung son of Pulpit, has been his own worst enemy. He washed out badly in Saratoga's security barns, prompting Pletcher to ship him to Monmouth.

Purge has thrived in the more relaxed surroundings on the Jersey Shore and seems more focused.

"He has a tendency to be a little high-strung," said assistant trainer Anthony Sciametta. "Knock wood, he hasn't done anything like that over here."

Purge was a commanding 12-length allowance winner on the Haskell Day undercard for his first victory in over a year.

"He's been training well since that race," Sciametta said. "He came out of it real good. He seems to like it here. It's kind of quiet, and he's adapted to the atmosphere fine."

The 1 1/8-mile Iselin now provides a platform for Purge to step up and prove he can compete with seasoned older stakes runners.

Pletcher also entered West Virginia, the New York-bred 4-year-old who ran second in the Evan Shipman Handicap for statebreds at Belmont Park last month.

While the 70th Iselin lacks the star power of last year, when Ghostzapper used the race as a springboard to Horse of the Year honors, this renewal includes two very strong contenders in Cherokee's Boy and Presidentialaffair.

Cherokee's Boy has been a model of consistency this summer for trainer Gary Capuano. The 5-year-old Cherokee's Boy has won three consecutive stakes, with Monmouth's Grade 3 Salvator Mile his most recent triumph.

Presidentialaffair is a veteran of the Monmouth wars. He is 6-2-1 in 10 Monmouth starts, including a win in last year's Salvator Mile.

Presidentialaffair was the runner-up in last year's Iselin, finishing 10 3/4 lengths behind Ghostzapper. He has been rested since tiring badly in the Grade 1 Stephen Foster at Churchill Downs on June 18.