OCEANPORT, N.J. * Grasshopper is the morning line favorite, but he’ll have to have his running shoes on in Saturday’s $300,000 Philip H. Iselin Stakes, where the field includes such Monmouth notables as Gottcha Gold and Kiss the Kid * Beacon Hill Road and Rogersville have experience on their side in Saturday’s $60,000 Continental Mile Stakes for 2-year-olds.
Unlike the Haskell Invitational, where Big Brown was an odds-on choice and delighted the chalk players, Saturday’s $300,000 Philip H. Iselin Stakes (G3) will be a wide-open betting event.
The 4-year-old colt trained by Neil Howard has some positives going for him, one being that he’s coming off three Grade 1 starts where his rivals have included Curlin, Student Council and Commentator. Another plus is that his jockey, Robby Albarado, is the only rider in the field of nine to have won the Iselin at Monmouth. Albarado scored aboard the Don Winfree-trained Tenpins in 2003. A third factor in his favor is that he’s a son of Dixie Union, the Haskell Invitational winner in 2000.
Howard sees the Iselin as a good place for Grasshopper to get back into the win column (he’s scored only once in his last eight outings).
“The distance (mile and an eighth) is very suitable for him,” the trainer said, “and the track plays pretty fair. He doesn’t have to get too far back and he doesn’t have to be in front. We thought this was a good spot for him.”
But Grasshopper will have to be at his best to handle Centaur Farms’ Gottcha Gold, the 3-1 second choice, who also has a lot of positives in his favor. For one, the Eddie Plesa Jr.-trained horse is the defending Iselin champion, and has an impressive record of 5-4-0 in 11 starts at Monmouth. For another, he’s a speed horse who drew the rail at Monmouth, always a significant advantage. And he’s a son of Coronado’s Quest, winner of the 1998 Haskell Invitational.
There’s also the matter of the Pimlico Special (G1) on May 16, when Gottcha Gold was beaten just a neck by Student Council, with Grasshopper nine lengths farther back in fifth.
Gottcha Gold turned in a subpar performance last out in the Skip Away, but Plesa said he’s willing to toss that race, and he’s expecting the real, Monmouth-loving Gottcha Gold to show up Saturday with new rider Elvis Trujillo aboard.
Then there are also the horses-for-courses like Kiss the Kid, who has won on both turf and dirt here; the entry of Actin Good and Cuba, who have combined for five wins in 12 Monmouth starts, and Shopton Lane, who brings a perfect two-for-two local record into the Iselin.
The shippers include Honest Man, third in the Salvator Mile (G3), and Pleasant Strike, a graded stakes winner for Todd Pletcher.
CONTINENTAL MILE A PROVING GROUND FOR BUDDING STARS
Saturday’s $60,000 Continental Mile Stakes offers 2-year-olds a chance to go two turns on the turf, usually for the first time, and is always a puzzle worth solving.
Todd Pletcher, who saddled Atoned to win last year’s off-the-turf running, will have the favorite in Bittel Road, who broke his maiden sprinting on the grass at Belmont.
But there are nine others in the race who all bear watching, for a variety of reasons.
Aspiring Nick and Beacon Hill Road have both won at one mile, but will be trying the grass for the first time.
Char-Mari Stable’s Beacon Hill Road commands attention as a half-brother to multiple graded stakes winner Park Avenue Ball, won the 2006 Iselin.
The Ben Perkins Jr.-trained colt by Forestry, wheels back into action just two weeks after breaking his maiden at one mile on Aug. 2, a wire-to-wire score.
“It’s a little quick back, but there are a lot of positives,” Perkins said. “We want to try him two turns on the grass, and if he could win this, it helps the mare (Road to the Ball, by Cahill Road) because then she’d have two stakes winners on turf and dirt. He’s got a good pedigree for the grass with Forestry (a son of Storm Cat) on top.
“And, since he’s already won at a mile on the main track, he’ll stay in no matter what happens with the weather.”
The only horse in the field with experience going one mile on the grass is Poindexter Thoroughbreds’ Rogersville, trained by Kathy Mongeon.
The son of Newfoundland got his experience at Colonial Downs on July 26, when he was beaten just a head in a tough maiden event.
“He’s a Virginia-bred, so we sent him to Colonial for his first race,” Mongeon said. “He had to ship six and a half hours, and then he had the inside post. They loaded him, and he stood in the gate for a long time, and then a horse was scratched. They unloaded the field, and then loaded him again, and he stood for a long time again.
“Considering all that, he really ran well,” Mongeon said. “And since he’s back at Monmouth, he’s been awesome in his training. He’s got the rail again Saturday, but I’m not that worried about it. He’s got the experience, and there’s no shipping. This time he’s running right here at home.”