STOPSHOPPINGMARIA BEGINS SOPHOMORE CAMPAIGN

When Mike Repole’s highly regarded filly Stopshoppingmaria last appeared on the racetrack on November 4, she was leading the field into deep stretch in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf at Churchill Downs before being passed right near the wire by the winner. On Saturday she’ll make her 2012 debut for trainer Todd Pletcher in the $60,000 Crank It Up Stakes for three-year-old fillies to be run on the turf at five and a half furlongs.

The dark bay daughter of More Than Ready has turned in a steady series of works at Belmont Park and in four lifetime starts she has never finished out of the money.

Stopshoppingmaria drew considerable attention when she broke her maiden at second asking by almost 10 lengths last August at Saratoga. In her next start, she finished second to eventual Eclipse Award-winning 2-year-old filly My Miss Aurelia in the Grade 1 Frizette run at one mile on Belmont’s main track.

“She’s a really nice filly and I expect her to show up in the race. She always does,” said Anthony Sciametta, Pletcher’s Monmouth assistant.

Repole said that he named the filly, whom he purchased for $100,000 at the Ocala Breeders Sales of two-year-olds-in-training in March 11, for his wife, Maria.

Judy the Beauty will also make the first start of her sophomore campaign. After winning her first three races, including stakes in France and Canada, she tired in the lane in the Grade 1 Spinaway Stakes at Saratoga last September for the only blemish on her chart.

She is scheduled to arrive on the grounds on Friday as part of a contingent of horses being sent here from Kentucky by trainer Wesley Ward. The daughter of Ghostzapper has been training well over the Churchill Downs turf and on Keeneland’s Polytrack and Ward, who also owns her, will take her blinkers off for the race.


ROMAN TIGER TRIES THE $200,000 MONMOUTH STAKES

“If I can win this race with my horse, it will make my entire summer,” said Dennis Manning, the longtime Monmouth-based horseman who owns and trains Roman Tiger.

The 7-year-old Florida-bred gelding tries to notch the second graded stakes win of his career and his fifth victory in 26 starts when he takes on seven other seasoned grass specialists in Sunday’s $200,000 Monmouth Stakes at a mile and an eighth on the turf.

Roman Tiger comes in to the Monmouth fresh off a two-month layoff and riding a two-race win streak in stakes races at the same distance at Tampa Bay Downs. He came from far back to take the Grade 3 Tampa Bay Stakes against open company on February 12 and followed that up with another come-from-behind win in the Turf Classic restricted to state-breds.

“I named him for my former assistant Nicole Roman,” said Manning. “He’s a solid horse. Angel Serpa rode him in both of those wins and he’s going to stay on him on Sunday. He and the horse get along and he knows him.”

Roman Tiger finished second in the 2010 Monmouth Stakes and was seventh in last year’s edition.

“My horse ran good for me the last two times. I rode him the other morning and he’s doing great. But this is a very tough race,” said Serpa. “I’m going to make the same move and save ground and then come running.”

Data Link, who drew the rail in the eight-horse field, and Get Stormy, who breaks from post seven, are dropping down from Grade 1 company. With Roman Tiger, those three have been co-highweighted at 123 pounds.

2009 winner Presious Passion, 2010 winner Get Serious, Mahubo, Freud’s Honour, and Yummy With Butter complete the field.


MONMOUTH PARK TO OPEN AT 11:00 A.M. THIS SATURDAY

Monmouth Park Racetrack will open its doors at 11 a.m. this Saturday, as the track prepares to beam-in the entire simulcast card from Belmont Park. Belmont’s 13-race program gets underway at 11:35 a.m. Monmouth first post is set for 12:45 p.m.


IRISH FESTIVAL ON SUNDAY

The 42nd Annual New Jersey Irish Festival with a full day’s celebration of Irish culture, heritage and music will be held at the track on Sunday. The event includes six live bands, step dancers, Irish comedians, a pipe band competition, Irish crafters, food vendors and more. There will also be an Irish mass at 11 a.m.