06/07/2007 11:00PM

Rumson draws graded-quality field


The $250,000 Woody Stephens Stakes was to be run Saturday at Belmont Park, and it wouldn't take a great leap to imagine many of the horses in Sunday's $60,000 Rumson Stakes at Monmouth opting for that more prestigious spot.

Both races are for 3-year-old sprinters, the Grade 2 Stephens at seven furlongs, the Rumson at six. The Rumson, which drew a highly competitive field of nine, shares top billing on Monmouth's program with the West Long Branch Stakes - not to be confused with Monmouth's Long Branch Stakes - for female sprinters.

To find the Rumson favorite, one might need to scan all the way to the outside gate, which will house Ease, a horse far from first string either in the barn of Kiaran McLaughlin or in the pantheon of racehorses owned by the Darley Stable, one of the umbrella operations under the control of the Maktoum family of Dubai.

But though he won his maiden race at Philadelphia Park, and wintered at Aqueduct rather than south Florida, Ease is all right.

He developed steadily through the winter and broke out on May 5 at Belmont, winning an entry-level allowance race by three lengths while running six furlongs in just over 1:09.

Right next to Ease in the gate will be Cherokee Country, a horse who beat Ease three months ago at Aqueduct, and who has been first or second in 7 of his 9 career starts.

Cherokee Country beat Ease, but West Coast Flier beat Cherokee Country winning the $72,000 LaBelle Memorial last month at Delaware.

And so far, no one has beaten Bet a Buck, who invades from the Laurel Park base of trainer Mike Trombetta. Bet a Buck has won his three starts by more than 13 lengths combined, and was much the best in restricted stakes company last out.

Reata's Rocket has tried (and failed) in graded stakes in two of his last four starts. Call Me Clash and Southwestern Heat both have great early speed. Power of Freedom won a Meadowlands stakes by more than 11 lengths when last seen in the fall.

The West Long Branch, on the other hand, has seven entries and one apparent standout, Sweet Fervor.

Sweet Fervor failed to show anything close to her best last out, finishing seventh in the Grade 1 Humana Distaff on Kentucky Derby Day at Churchill Downs, but in her previous race she won the Grade 2 Shirley Jones at Gulfstream Park, and Sweet Fervor is formidable in this overnight stakes race.