This is our weekly Monmouth Park racing notebook from Steve Edelson. Scroll down for news about a stable pony who has a double life as a racehorse.
OCEANPORT – Every year there’s the so-called house horse. A runner from the barn of a local trainer at Monmouth Park that looms as a longshot — but carries the hopes and dreams of everyone on the backstretch come Haskell Day.
But this year, when they load the field into the starting gate for the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Invitational on July 20, there could be three or more entrants with those kind of strong ties to the Jersey Shore.
One was on display in Sunday’s $100,000 Long Branch Stakes, as Joevia rolled to a 2¾-length victory in the slop for trainer Gregg Sacco.
It was a huge effort for the 3-year-old after a disastrous Wood Memorial at Aqueduct on April 6, when Joevia was disqualified and jockey Nik Juarez picked up a 15-day suspension for cutting off several horses early in the race.
In his first two starts of the year, Joevia finished second to Haikal, who was scratched from the Kentucky Derby with a foot injury, and Alwaysmining, who will be among the favorites in this Saturday’s Preakness Stakes.
“Joevia was in a good spot, he came back great and we’re back on track. Now we can march forward,’’ Sacco said. “That was crazy what happened in the Wood. I thought we would bounce back. Now we have to stay the course.’’
MORE MONMOUTH PARK: Maximum Security settles in at Monmouth Park
MORE MONMOUTH PARK: Trainer Jason Servis furious about Kentucky Derby DQ
MORE MONMOUTH PARK: Unclear when Maximum Security will return to training
Now the $150,000 Pegasus Stakes at Monmouth Park on June 16 looms as Joevia’s stepping stone to the Haskell.
And while the Sacco family, a part of Monmouth Park since the track opened in 1946, has never had a Haskell starter, it could have two this year. Mind Control won the Grade 3 Bay Shore Stakes at Aqueduct last month, and Sacco could try to stretch the colt out after the Grade 1 Woody Stephens Stakes, run at seven furlongs on June 8.
“He’ll work this week and he’s on target for the Woody Stephens,’’ Sacco said. “After that we’ll assess whether he’s Haskell bound or the Allen Jerkins (over seven furlongs at Saratoga).’’
And then there’s Maximum Security, who won the Kentucky Derby only to be disqualified for interference and is now settled into trainer Jason Servis’ barn. It’s unclear when Maximum Security will return to training, but his presence in the Haskell field would elevate the race significantly.
From stable pony to starting gate
Trainer Kent Sweezey ran six horses on Sunday’s card, winning once and finishing third in three others. And it was one of those place finishes that’s particularly intriguing.
During the week, Sweezey oversees the morning training sessions on the track riding Mayrehofen, a 4-year-old gelding by Curlin who serves as his stable pony. And on the weekends he puts a racing saddle on Mayrehofen, who finished third in a $20,000 claiming race at 25-1, picking up a $3,381 check. He also ran in an allowance race on opening day, some eight days earlier.
“A lot of barns have a stable pony. And mine, he also runs,’’ Sweezey said. “The new guys who come into our barn can’t believe it. They’re like `who’s running today? Who’s Mayrehofen?’ Because we call him Cheese Burger. That’s his name in the barn, Cheese Burger.
“He pays for himself. He likes to do it. He was a race horse. We bought him from a lady in Florida who was running him. I think we paid $7,500. But he just wasn’t cutting it and I said `let’s put a western saddle on him and make him happy and give him something to do.’ All the sudden he started eating real good.’’
Red Gum euthanized
Monmouth Park experienced its first race-related equine fatality of the meet on Sunday when Red Gum, a 3-year-old trained by Kelly Rubley, broke a leg while contending for the lead in at the quarter pole on a sloppy track in the Long Branch Stakes and had to be euthanized. Red Gum had shipped to Monmouth Park from Fair Hill Training Center in Maryland for the race.
Monmouth Park had six race-related deaths in 2018 during its 52-day meet.
Jockey Jose Ferrer was uninjured in the fall.
Back in winner’s circle
Golden Brown, the fifth-place finisher in last year’s Haskell, returned to the winner’s circle for the first time since annexing the Grade 3 Kent Stakes on the Delaware Park turf last July 14, just 15 days before the Haskell.
Trained by Pat McBurney, Golden Brown went postward at 9-1 in a $48,000 allowance race on Sunday, winning by a nose at a mile-and-1/16 on the dirt. Golden Brown was ridden by Jomar Torres, who has six wins in three days of racing.
Headlining the upcoming weekend are a pair of $75,000 feature races, both to be contested at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf.
On Saturday it’s the ladies taking centerstage in the Politely Stakes. Trainer James Toner, who won the $100,000 Cliff Hanger Stakes on the turf on opening day with Hawkish, sends out Mominou, coming off a win in an $83,000 allowance race at Keeneland on April 20 at this distance on the turf. Also entered is the runner-up in that race, Really Proud, trained by Christophe Clement. Miss Deplorable won the $60,000 Blue Sparkler Stakes on the Monmouth Park turf at this distance last summer.
On Sunday, the boys take to the turf in the first running of the Get Serious Stakes. Dirty is coming off a win in the $100,000 King T. Leatherbury Stakes at Laurel Park on April 20. Second by a neck in that race was Completed Pass, who was trying the turf for the first time in his career. Also coming out of that race is third-place finisher Proforma, a Grade 3 winner who was making his first start of the year for trainer Michael Stidham.
Monmouth Park’s 2018 meet was marked by a rainy summer that clearly hurt attendance and handle. In fact, more than a third of the scheduled turf races a year ago had to be moved to the main track.
Heavy rains on Sunday limited attendance to just 1,957, with an on-track handle of only $112,327, and an off-track handle of $1,936,819. Contrast that with an opening day crowd on May 4 of 21,462, with $494,288 wagered at Monmouth Park, and $2,304,106 off-track.
Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press sports columnist who has been covering athletics at the Jersey Shore for nearly 35 years. He’s passionate about the area’s rich sports history, and the history being made today. Contact him at: @SteveEdelsonAPP; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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