The second running of the $200,000 Monmouth Stakes June 13, a 1 1/8-mile turf event that has the look of a graded event, figures to serve as a solid prep for the $750,000 United Nations Stakes (gr. IT), the New Jersey track's top grass offering of the season on July 4.
Six of the nine entered for the Monmouth are graded winners. The field includes the grade I victors Grand Couturier and Presious Passion, grade II winners Proudinsky and Strike a Deal, and grade III winners Kiss the Kid and Buddy's Humor.
The top locally based performer is Presious Passion, who took last year’s running of the United Nations, giving trainer Mary Hartmann her first grade I victory. Patricia Generazio owns the 6-year-old Presious Passion, who has been idle since shipping back from Florida.
The son of Royal Anthem last ran second in the off-the-turf Pan American (gr. III) at Gulfstream Park on March 21, a race won by Buddy's Humor. Before that, Presious Passion won Gulfstream's Mac Diarmida Stakes (gr. IIT) on the turf.
The going figures to be soft for the Monmouth, a race won in its inaugural last year by Big Brown, who held off Proudinsky by a neck.
“This turned up a very tough spot,” Hartmann said, “but if he’s going to be ready for the United Nations, he has to go here. The turf won’t be to his liking and the distance is not his best but what are you going to do? He needs a race, period.”
Presious Passion, 9-2 on the morning line, loves to go long and has performed his best on firm turf. A soft course could prevent him from showing off his preferred style of running -- going to the front and improving his position.
“There’s a lot of speed in there,” Hartmann said. “He sat off the speed in the Cliff Hanger (2007 at the Meadowlands), so he probably could do it again. But who knows with him. He does what he wants most of the time.”
Presious Passion won last year’s United Nations on the front end all the way, holding off Strike a Deal to score by a neck after 11 furlongs in 2:13 4/5. He prepped for that by running second in an off-the-turf running of the Battlefield Stakes at nine furlongs.
Richard Santulli's Strike a Deal kicked off his current campaign with a sixth-place finish in the Dixie Stakes (gr. IIT) at Pimlico on May 16. He enjoyed a big year in 2008, including a seven-length triumph in Aqueduct's Red Smith (gr. IIT). Besides the United Nations, the 5-year-old Smart Strike horse also ran second in Woodbine's Nijinksy Stakes (Can-II), and Belmont Park's Knickerbocker Handicap (gr. IIIT). Trained by Alan Goldberg, the bay would go over the $1 million mark in career earnings with a win in the Monmouth.
Grand Couturier, who makes his seasonal debut for trainer Bobby Ribaudo and owner Marc Keller, posted a pair of grade I wins in New York last year in Saratoga's Sword Dancer and Belmont's Turf Classic Invitational. After showing a dislike for hard turf in the Breeder's Cup Turf (gr. IT) at Santa Anita (finishing last of 11), the imposing 6-year-old Great Britain-bred bay should appreciate a softer course for his return.
The German-bred millionaire Proudinsky, a multiple grade II winner, finished sixth behind Einstein in the Turf Classic (gr. IT) at Churchill Downs in his last start May 2 for trainer Bobby Frankel. He is the 3-1 morning line favorite.
Kiss the Kid, trained by Amy Tarrant, most recently finished seventh in the Dixie. The 6-year-old son of Lemon Drop Kid won Gulfstream Park's Appleton (gr. IIIT) March 28..
Buddy's Humor caught the pacesetting Presious Passion at the top of the stretch in the Pan American and prevailed following a long drive to the wire by three-quarters of a length at rain-soaked Gulfstream.
$200,000 Monmouth Stakes (Race 9, 4:50 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles (Turf)
PP, Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer, M/L
1. Proudinsky (GER), E Castro, 123, R J Frankel, 3/1
2. Banrock (NY), K J Desormeaux, 120, T M Bush, 8/1
3. Fearless Eagle (FL), D Centeno, 120, E Plesa, Jr., 15/1
4. Grand Couturier (GB), J Bravo, 118, R Ribaudo, 7/2
5. Strike a Deal (KY), C C Lopez, 123, A E Goldberg, 4/1
6. Buddy's Humor (KY), J Lezcano, 123, B N Levine, 6/1
7. Presious Passion (FL), E Trujillo, 123, M Hartmann, 9/2
8. Richard's Kid (MD), C H Marquez, Jr., 118, R W Small, 30/1
9. Kiss the Kid (KY), C Hill, 120, A Tarrant, 6/1