08/25/2004 11:00PM

Ryerson likes his chances

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - A local boy who never ventured far from home, trainer Jim Ryerson remembers when the Grade 3, $100,000 Sapling Stakes at Monmouth Park was one of the premier events for 2-year-olds.

Ryerson, who was born in nearby Long Branch, gets a chance to write his own chapter in Sapling history Saturday, when he sends the undefeated in the 70th running of the six-furlong stakes.

"Being from here and growing up here, I'd love to win a Sapling," said Ryerson.

Ryerson's best finish in the Sapling was a second by Meadow Flight in 1993. He will try to better that result with a colt who has already produced a pair of impressive victories at Monmouth.

Park Avenue Ball made his debut July 15 with a five-length win over New Jersey-breds and followed with a rallying victory in the Tyro Stakes on July 31, when he earned a 74 Beyer figure.

Park Avenue Ball has maintained his edge. He posted a pair of five-furlong bullet works since the Tyro, the most recent a 1:00 drill in the mud last Sunday.

"He's doing great," said Ryerson. "Everything is a go."

Park Avenue Ball faces seven rivals in the six-furlong stakes, including three trained by Todd Pletcher: June the Tiger, Upscaled, and Vicarage.

June the Tiger is the only member of the trio with stakes experience, having finished last in the mud in the four-horse Tremont Stakes at Belmont Park.

Vicarage, fourth last time out in a Saratoga allowance race, will race with blinkers off.

The Pletcher horses go as individual betting interests due to separate ownerships.

Primal Storm, trained by Steve Asmussen, has the most extensive stakes resume in the field.

He got an 84 Beyer for his romping victory in the Flash Stakes at Belmont and most recently ran third in the Tremont.

Evil Minister returns to Monmouth after a maiden victory at Pimlico. He was fourth in his debut at Monmouth.

Both Pop the Question and Punch the Odds won their maiden at first asking at Monmouth.

Through the years, the Sapling was won by leading horses such as Needles, Buckpasser, Foolish Pleasure, Alydar, and Bet Twice. In recent seasons, the Sapling has not attracted runners of that caliber.

* Tap Day, seventh behind Lion Heart in the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, returns in an easier spot in the $60,000 Lamplighter Stakes for 3-year-olds at a mile and 70 yards.

"It turned out he wasn't up to that level of competition," said Robby Rader, who trains Mark Hennig's Monmouth division. "We had to try, and now we know."

* The $60,000 Omnibus Stakes for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the turf is a wide-open affair with a full field. Honorable Cat, winner of an off-the-turf allowance race following a second-place finish in Monmouth's Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap, will be one of the favorites.

* Monmouth will add $25,000 to the Sorority Stakes to bring it to $100,000. The track's top event for 2-year-old fillies will be run Sept. 4.

* The Meadowlands Racetrack will name a 3-year-old filly turf stakes on Oct. 23 in honor of the late Hall of Fame trainer Phil Johnson.