BUNKER HILL FITS WELL IN SPEND A BUCK STAKES SATURDAY

When last seen in action, Flying Dutchman Stable’s Bunker Hill acted up in the paddock, threw a fit in the gate, and then trailed the field in the Grade 3 American Turf Stakes at Churchill Downs, obviously not enjoying anything about the experience.

Trainer Derek Ryan thinks all that will work in his favor when the colt goes in Saturday’s $70,000 Spend a Buck Stakes for 3-year-olds.

“It was Kentucky Oaks Day, and he just didn’t handle the crowd and noise,” said Ryan. “He went nuts in the paddock and nuts in the gate, and then he didn’t like the soft turf at all.

“Throw that one out, and he looks good here. He’s two-for-two at Monmouth, and he’s got the turf-to-dirt angle working for him.”

Bunker Hill is the “other” 3-year-old in Ryan’s Monmouth barn this year. The bay son of Trippi served as a workmate for Musket Man here last year, but unlike that Triple Crown performer, started his career at the Monmouth meet. While Musket Man did not make his debut until October at Belmont, Bunker Hill began his career here on Aug. 7. He broke his maiden by two and a half lengths at five furlongs, and came right back to take the Continental Mile by a nose.

Ryan sent him to Delaware, where the colt won an off-the-turf stakes, and then was beaten a nose by Aspiring Nick (one of his Spend a Buck rivals) in the Dover Stakes.

This year, Bunker Hill has run just twice. He was second, beaten a neck, in the Blue N Gold Stakes at Charles Town in April, and then came the debacle at the Downs on May 1.

“I ran him because he was there and ready to go,” Ryan said. “But everything was wrong. He might run okay on the grass someday, but it will have to be a rock-hard track. He didn’t like the soft going at all.”

Ryan feels that with all the speed in the Spend a Buck, his colt can maintain a good striking position throughout the mile and a sixteenth.

“He can sit off the pace anywhere the jockey wants,” Ryan said. “There’s plenty of speed in there, and he can make a late move.”

One of the favorites in the Spend a Buck, Lael Stables’ Pitched Perfectly, finished fifth behind Musket Man in their racing debut on Oct. 25.


MUSKET MAN BACK AT MONMOUTH, WILL TRAIN UP TO HASKELL

Eric Fein and Vic Carlson’s Musket Man, third in both the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes, is back at Monmouth Park after a brief break, and will start jogging on Sunday as he prepares for the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1) on Aug. 2.

Trainer Derek Ryan said the Yonaguska colt, who won the Tampa Bay Derby (G3) and Illinois Derby (G2) coming into the Kentucky Derby, will jog for three or four days and start galloping on Wednesday.

Ryan said he does not plan to run his charge before the Haskell. Instead, he plans to work the colt in the afternoon between races as part of Musket Man’s preparation for the big event.

After running third behind Rachel Alexandra and Mine That Bird in the Preakness on May 16, Musket Man returned to Monmouth and then was sent to a nearby farm for a two-week vacation. Ryan said the colt returned to his barn on Wednesday.


LOVE THAT DANCE BEARS WATCHING BACK IN STATE-BRED RANKS

John Petrini’s Love That Dance, a 3-year-old daughter of Not For Love, should appreciate the return to state-bred company in Sunday’s $60,000 Open Mind Handicap, trainer Ben Perkins Jr. says.

“She’s been in some very tough races,” Perkins said of the filly’s three starts this year. “Although she’ll be meeting older horses for the first time, being back with New Jersey-breds should help.”

Love That Dance has a perfect three-for-three record against state-breds, although only two were officially victories. She finished first in her career debut here last June, only to be disqualified and placed second. Next time out on July 12, she left no doubt as to who was best as she broke her maiden by more than eight lengths.

After running second in a Laurel race, Love That Dance was two-for-two at the Meadowlands, running away from open company in an allowance race, and then taking the New Jersey Juvenile Stakes in a romp.

This year, she started off her 3-year-old campaign in the Grade 3 Cicada Stakes on the inner track at Aqueduct, running sixth, and then was fourth in the Lucky Lavender Stakes on the Big A main track. Last out, she ran fourth here in the open Just Smashing Stakes won in fast time by On the Menu.

“Aqueduct in the winter is a very tough place,” Perkins said. “The stakes especially come up tough. And there were some really nice fillies in that race here last time.

“I expect her to run well, because of the return to state-bred company, and also because she’s been running this year, and some of the others in there will be coming off long layoffs.”

Joe Bravo, who has been aboard in all her career wins, has the call again on Sunday.