07/23/2003 11:00PM

Rare spot for N.J.-breds


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The inaugural running of the $50,000 Colts Neck Stakes Saturday afternoon at Monmouth Park offers rare opportunities for New Jersey-breds.

The stakes is set for one mile on the turf, a distance and surface rarely available to Jersey-breds, who are usually limited to six furlongs on the main track.

It is also unusual to find a New Jersey-bred race restricted to 3-year-olds. Most statebred 3-year-olds have to advance through their allowance conditions or compete in stakes against their elders.

The distance, surface, and age restriction could be made to order for Mighty Oak.

He started the season with a fourth-place finish and followed with a pair of strong allowance victories. His latest effort on July 5 ranks as one of the most impressive by a New Jersey-bred this year.

Mighty Oak prompted a swift pace from the outside and drew off to a 2 1/2-length win.

He will face seven rivals, but only one, Jackson Run, has ever been on the turf.

Chuck Spina, Mighty Oak's trainer, feels his horse will take to the new surface.

"I think he'll like the grass," Spina said. "He's got a big foot and he's by Carnivalay, who's by Northern Dancer."

The distance opportunity was one Spina could not resist.

"I've been looking to run my horse long against Jersey-breds," Spina said. "A lot of people have the same idea. This is going to be one competitive race."

In addition to Mighty Oak, three other runners - Midnight Interview, Kaw Liga Sioux, and Freedom's Honor - also won their last starts.

Two others, Sultry Cat and Jackson Run, won two starts back to give the field a solid corps of horses in good recent form.

Kaw Liga Sioux might offer the biggest challenge to Mighty Oak.

Trained by Gerald Sleeter, Kaw Liga Sioux was one of the leading New Jersey-bred 2-year-olds last season. He won 3 of 4 starts and capped the year with a win in the New Jersey Futurity at The Meadowlands.

Monster Jack and Blue's Prospecter complete the field.

Sky Mesa commits to Haskell

Trainer John Ward confirmed Thursday that Sky Mesa will make his next start in the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park on Aug. 3.

Unbeaten as a 2-year-old, Sky Mesa suffered his first loss when he ran third in the Grade 2 Dwyer Stakes at Belmont Park in his season debut.

Sky Mesa will face Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide in the Haskell. The Haskell will be Funny Cide's first start since finishing third in the Belmont Stakes, a factor in Sky Mesa's favor, according to Ward.

"If you plan to go against a Triple Crown horse, the time to get him is his first race back," he said.