The “second season” for 3-year-olds starts this Saturday at Monmouth Park with the 74th running of the Long Branch Stakes at a mile and a sixteenth. The race serves as Monmouth’s main prep for the $1 million Haskell Invitational on August 3, and horses who run well in the Long Branch are traditionally offered invitations to the Grade 1 Haskell.
Hey Byrn, a bay colt by Put It Back * Restraining Order, by Skip Trial, has not raced since the Preakness Stakes on May 17. In that Triple Crown event, he drew the outside Post 12, never a good thing in any Pimlico race, and caught Big Brown at the top of his game. The combination resulted in a seventh-place finish, 15 lengths behind the winner.
Plesa brought the colt to Monmouth right after that race, and Hey Byrn has been training steadily at Monmouth for nearly two months now. In fact, his most recent work was his best.
With jockey Joe Bravo in the irons, Hey Byrn zipped five furlongs in 1:00 flat on July 5, best of 33 works at the distance that morning. His two dirt breezes in June, both with Bravo aboard, were extremely steady * 1:01 2/5 on June 28; 1:01 2/5 on June 21. He also worked 1:01 4/5 on the turf on June 12 when Plesa briefly considered putting Hey Byrn on the grass.
“That last breeze was very impressive,” Plesa said of the colt’s bullet move. “He went the last quarter in :22 and change, and finished up very strong. He really likes this track.”
Hey Byrn blossomed this winter in Florida, when he won two allowance races at Gulfstream. Plesa gave him a try in the Florida Derby, and Hey Bryn overcame a poor start to run fourth as the world was introduced to Big Brown, who won by five.
The colt won the Holy Bull Stakes (G3) at Gulfstream in April, but lacked the graded stakes earnings to make it into the Kentucky Derby field of 20. Instead, Plesa opted for the Preakness, where Hey Bryn was unfortunate enough to draw far outside.
Chuck Lopez rode the colt in his last two starts, but with that rider sidelined by injury, Plesa has chosen Joe Bravo as his new jockey. Bravo has gotten to know Hey Byrn over the last month.
“Joe will be an asset,” Plesa said. “He knows the track, he knows the horse, and he knows how to win big races.”
Bravo has been aboard three Long Branch winners, the most recent of which * Lion Heart in 2004 * went on to become his first Haskell winner.
CONSISTENT I’M ONLY LAUGHING ONE TO WATCH IN BOB HARDING
Saturday’s $70,000 Bob Harding Stakes at one mile on turf, which serves as a prep for the $150,000 Oceanport Stakes (G3) on August 3, should be a wide-open affair, and trainer Tim Hills thinks I’m Only Laughing will run his race.
The 6-year-old son of Wheaton, bred and owned by Laurence Foggle, is coming off a third in the Battlefield Stakes here on June 15. The race is notable because the horse who finished second in the off-the-turf event was Presious Passion, who came back to win the Grade 1 United Nations.
I’m Only Laughing was second most of the way on the sloppy main track, but finished up 15 lengths behind the winner, Call My Bluff.
“He made a run at the leader,” Hills said, “but when the leader opened up, Marquez (jockey Carlos H. Marquez Jr.) wrapped up on him.
“He came out of the race fine, and he’ll run better on the turf that he did in the slop,” the trainer said. “He’s at his best at a mile.”
I’m Only Laughing won his previous start, a turf allowance here on May 29 in his seasonal Monmouth debut. In three racing seasons here, I’m Only Laughing has compiled a record of 4-1-2 in eight starts on dirt and turf, long and short. His only poor start at Monmouth came in a dirt sprint last July when he was fifth after encountering traffic trouble on the stretch turn.
“He’s very consistent, very versatile,” Hills said of I’m Only Laughing. “He’s the kind of horse you like to train.”
Hills is well-acquainted with the family, since he trained the horse’s dam, the Iron Constitution mare Carefree Laughter, to a winning career in New England.
MONMOUTH CELEBRATES ST. PATRICK’S DAY IN JULY THIS SUNDAY
One of Monmouth Park’s favorite holidays will be celebrated this Sunday when the track offers an array of activities for “St. Patrick’s Day in July.”
Fans wearing anything green will get free grandstand admission and half-price clubhouse admission, and there will be a free drawing to win a trip for two to Ireland, sponsored by Guinness.
A group of military parachute jumpers will bail out over the track before the first race, trailing green smoke.
During the day, music will be provided by the Friendly Sons of the Shillelagh Pipe & Drum Band and the Bobby Byrne Band.
Sunday is also Family Fun Day, with free pony rides, face painters, clowns and other activities.