OCEANPORT, N.J. * Trainer Richard Small will saddle a pair of fillies in Sunday’s $70,000 Serena’s Song Stakes, a prep for the Grade 3 Monmouth Breeders’ Cup Oaks on Aug. 9 * Marianne Hesse contributed $40,000 to raise the purse of the Charles Hesse 3rd Handicap on Aug. 3 to $100,000 * The 17th annual Backstretch Appreciation Day picnic will be held on Monday at Monmouth.
Sunday’s $70,000 Serena’s Song Stakes for 3-year-old fillies deserves special attention because the mile and 70-yard race serves as a prep for the $150,000 Monmouth Breeders’ Cup Oaks (G3) that will be renewed on August 9.
Charming, who broke her maiden first out at Keeneland in April and then was second in a Belmont allowance event in May, will be looking for her first stakes score on Sunday. She’s been a high-profile filly since birth because her dam is the multiple Grade 1 winner Take Charge Lady, by Dehere. Scatuorchio and Tabor gave $3.2 million for Charming as a yearling in 2006 at Keeneland.
To take on that kind of a presence, trainer Richard Small has entered a pair of Maryland homebreds owned by Fitzhugh LLC.
Hartigan, a daughter of Include who drew the rail Sunday, has won her last two starts, including the Pearl Necklace Stakes last out at Pimlico. Inventive, by Haskell Invitational winner Dixie Union, is coming off an impressive allowance victory at Monmouth.
But Small says he wants to wait a while before declaring them candidates for the Monmouth Oaks.
“They’re both really nice fillies,” Small said. “But the Oaks would be a giant step. This race fits them fine, and I want to see how they perform here. I’m taking it one step at a time, and right now I don’t know about taking a giant step.”
Both Haritgan’s recent victories have come in off-the-turf stakes. She scored in the Hilltop at Pimlico on May 10 on a “good” main track, and then was a four and a quarter-length winner of the Pearl Necklace on a muddy strip.
“That was a good race for her,” Small said, “but it was a restricted race (Maryland-breds), so this will be a test.”
Inventive finished third behind her stablemate in both the Hilltop and Pearl Necklace before coming to Monmouth on June 19. In that mile and a sixteenth allowance, she overcame a bad start to win going away by nearly four lengths.
“That was really a good race,” Small said, “and it looked like she really likes this track. She’s been developing nicely one race at a time.”
Sunday’s stakes is named for the D. Wayne Lukas-trained runner who in 1995 became the first filly ever to beat the boys in the Haskell Invitational.
CHARLES HESSE 3rd HANDICAP ON AUG. 3 TO CARRY $100,000 PURSE
The top New Jersey-bred contest on the Haskell Day undercard on Sunday, August 3, will be the Charles Hesse 3rd Handicap, which has received a purse boost to $100,000.
Monmouth director of racing Mike Dempsey said that Marianne Hesse had contributed $40,000 to the purse of the race named for her late husband. The mile and 70-yard race was slated to have a $60,000 purse.
“Charlie and Marianne Hesse have been great contributors to New Jersey’s racing program for more than 30 years,” Dempsey said, “and this is just the latest example of their generosity.”
The Hesses, who lived in Leonardo, N.J., raced as the Char-Mari Stable for 30 years, and Mrs. Hesse still races in the Char-Mari colors. She is also a partner in the Double H Stable with Mrs.
Mr. Hesse, whose father built the original Monmouth racing strip in 1946, passed away in 2006.
17TH ANNUAL BACKSTRETCH APPRECIATION DAY SET JULY 14
The 17th annual Backstretch Appreciation Day Picnic at Monmouth Park will be held on Monday, July 14, rain or shine, starting at noon.
The picnic, which is open to all backstretch employees and their families was started by Dan Perlsweig in 1991 as a way of thanking all the people who work with the horses and keep racing going smoothly.
Last year, the picnic drew more than 2,000 people, and this year’s event is expected to lure the same.
The theme of the picnic is food and fun. The menu offers chicken, hot dogs, corn on the cob, potato salad, baked beans, watermelon and more.
There will be games and raffles all afternoon, with more than 500 prizes given away. In addition, more than 800 t-shirts will be handed out to backstretch employees.