DEFENDING CHAMPION NEW JERSEY-BRED BACK ON TRACK

Hermosillo, the 2011 New Jersey-bred champion Handicap Horse and Horse of the Year, will make the first start of his 2012 campaign on Saturday when he takes on 11 other state-breds in the $60,000 John J. Reilly Handicap.

“He’s ready. He’s eight-years-old and a pure professional. He knows when he’s running and he sure knows what to do. He’s all class,” said Nick Galati, the assistant to trainer Stephen DiMauro. “The one thing he doesn’t know is how old he is. He thinks he’s still a two-year-old.”

Hermosillo, who has the same name as the biggest city in the Sonora region of Mexico, looked the picture of health on Friday morning as he accepted peppermints and affection from Galati. Bred by Edwin Broome and owned by Kenwood Racing LLC, Hermosillo is clearly a favorite in the barn.

Hermosillo, a winner of 11 races from 61 career starts and $625,351, took three straight last summer on this track, including the Charles Hesse III Handicap for state-breds and a pair of $65,000 optional claiming allowance tests against open company. On Oct. 11, he made every pole a winning one as he beat Afleet Again, who would go on to win the 2011 Breeders’ Cup Marathon.

The gelding’s connections said he still has the desire and now he has to prove he also has the ability to defend his titles.

“This race at six furlongs looks pretty tough as there are some legitimate sprinters in there and he usually likes two-turn races,” Galati said. “We gave him a little time off this year and he’s been working really well over the track. This horse tries really hard every time out and always gives his best. He could never disappoint us.”


BREEDERS’ CUP MARATHON WINNER MAY RUN IN UNITED NATIONS

Breeders’ Cup Marathon winner Eldaafer has settled nicely into the barn of trainer Diane Alvarado and has impressed his conditioner and jockey Paco Lopez in the mornings. On May 28, he turned in a bullet work of 1:12.40 for six furlongs to cap a series of four solid moves during the month.

“He’s still a moody horse but he worked really well with Paco on him the other day,” said Alvarez, who saddled Eldaafer when he won the 2010 Marathon and then tried to defend his title in the 2011 edition.

The Grade 2 $200,000 Brooklyn Handicap at Belmont on June 8 will be his next start, and his fourth straight appearance in the stakes. If all goes well Alvarado will consider the Grade 1 $500,000 United Nations Stakes at 1 3/8 mile on the turf on July 7 for the seven-year-old bred by Shadwell Farm in Kentucky.

The United Nations is a Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race for the $2 million Turf.


JOE HAMSPHIRE JR. JOINS JOCKEY COLONY ON FRIDAYS

Veteran reignsman Josiah Hampshire Jr. was working horses on the backside on Friday morning before riding his first horse of the meet on the afternoon card. Currently based mainly at Parx in Philadelphia and riding at tracks across the Mid-Atlantic region, he said that plans call for him to be at Monmouth on Fridays as often as possible during the season.

“I’m as healthy as I can be, thank God, and in great shape,” said the 48-year-old. “I’m looking forward to riding as many as I can here.”

Hampshire, who has 20 combined leading rider titles at Rockingham Park and Suffolk Downs, will be inducted into the New England Turf Writers Association Hall of Fame in July. Through May 31, he had 3,725 winners from 22,458 mounts with $41,978,352 in purses.


MONMOUTH/WOODBINE HANDICAPPING CONTEST ON SUNDAY

The $200 Monmouth/Woodbine Handicapping Contest will be held this Sunday, with the top two finishers earning a seat in the 2013 DRF/NTRA National Handicapping Championship in Las Vegas.

The $200 fee includes $100 for the entry and a $100 bankroll. The format calls for win, place and show wagers only on Monmouth Park and Woodbine races. While the top two qualify for Vegas, cash prizes will be awarded to the top 10 finishers.