08/13/2006 11:00PM

Zoffinger back for his third Iselin run


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Zoffinger will make a third straight appearance in the Grade 3, $250,000 Philip Iselin Breeders' Cup Stakes, Monmouth Park's top event for older main-track runners at 1 1/8 miles on Saturday.

The 6-year-old Zoffinger has hit the board in both his Iselin appearances.

The 2004 Iselin saw eventual Horse of the Year Ghostzapper romp to a 10 3/4-length win on a sloppy track. Zoffinger, in an all-out drive in the lane, nosed out Private Lap for third, 32 lengths behind Ghostzapper in the four-horse field

In last year's renewal, Zoffinger rallied from eighth to get second in a controversial stretch run. West Virginia, first under the wire, drifted into Zoffinger's path. The stewards ruled there was no basis for a disqualification. Zoffinger's owner, Dennis Drazin, appealed to the New Jersey Racing Commission, which voted last month to uphold the stewards' decision. Drazin said he will file a legal challenge.

"If West Virginia doesn't come out into his path, he would be defending his victory in the Iselin," said trainer John Forbes.

For Zoffinger, this has not been a productive season. He has run six times with only two seconds. Zoffinger has lost 18 straight and his recent form has not been sharp.

"We're going to give him another chance at it," said Forbes. "He's just shy of being a really good horse. In both years, we trained him with the Iselin as the goal. It seems to be his distance. It's a nice prize."

Zoffinger, a deep closer, most recently ran poorly here in a turf allowance race.

"We'd love to see him like the grass a little bit, because there are more opportunities for his style, but he just doesn't like it." Forbes said. "He has come off the turf and run some good dirt races in the past. We're trying to get a good race out of him. Whether we can do it again this year remains to be seen."

Other likely Iselin horses, according to Monmouth's stakes coordinator, Mike Melendez, include Master Command, Park Avenue Ball, Sinners N Saints, and Tap Day. Possible entrants include Indy Wind and Survivalist.

Castro sore but due back

Jockey Eddie Castro should be back in action Wednesday following a scary spill on Saturday.

Castro took off his Sunday mounts.

"He's just sore, that's it," said agent Mike Gonzalez. "All the scans came back fine."

Castro was dumped from Stormin Gracie during the eighth race and was taken to Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, N.J., for back X-rays.

The incident began when Megan Popz, with Eddie King aboard, fell midway on the final turn. Castro could not avoid the fallen horse. Stormin Gracie was uninjured in the incident, finishing the race without the jockey. Megan Popz was tended to on the track and vanned off. King was shaken up.

Trifecta a new low

The first race Sunday produced a Monmouth record-low trifecta payoff of $9.20 for the $2 bet.

Waltz Brightly, the 1-5 favorite, topped the ticket with Moonlight Aria (7-1) second and Holly Hedge (4-1) third.

The old Monmouth record was $15.80 set in the 2002 Haskell Invitational when War Emblem won at 3-10 followed by Magic Weisner and Like a Hero.

Loving Thoughts heads feature

Loving Thoughts looms a strong favorite Wednesday in the $43,000 second-level allowance on the turf for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.

Loving Thoughts just missed last time out, losing by a neck in a trouble-filled trip in which she was boxed on the final turn.

Chris DeCarlo, who normally rides first call for trainer Todd Pletcher, will be back aboard Loving Thoughts for trainer Vickie Oliver.

Pletcher will be represented in the race by More for Me, who will be making her season debut. She was 2 for 7 last year, including a win in the St Georges Stakes at Delaware Park. Chuckie Lopez will ride.