But the Centaur Farms' Florida homebred, trained by Edward Plesa Jr., will not have an easy time of it. The 5-year-old Coronado's Quest horse faces eight well-tested rivals in the 1 1/8-mile Iselin, including graded winners Grasshopper, Pleasant Strike, and Actin Good, as well as Shopton Lane, who easily defeated Gottcha Gold in their July 26 encounter, the Skip Away at Monmouth.
Gottcha Gold came into last year's Iselin full of momentum, having defeated eventual champion older horse Lawyer Ron in front-running fashion by a neck in Monmouth's Salvator Mile (gr. III). He followed that win with an even better effort in the '07 Iselin, leading the field into the lane and drawing off to win by 4 1/2 lengths under a hand ride from C.C. Lopez at odds of 15-1.
This season, Gottcha Gold ran second in the Salvator, unable to match strides late with the winning Notional as the 9-10 favorite. Then in the 1 1/16-mile Skip Away, Shopton Lane went all the way to win by 2 1/2 lengths. Gottcha Gold, forced into an unfamiliar tracking position, struggled home fourth of five, beaten by nearly seven lengths as the even-money choice. Elvis Trujillo rides the bay for the first time here and they'll break from the rail post.
Gottcha Gold could be facing a stronger Iselin field this time around.
Grasshopper, who has yet to fulfill the promise he showed when second by a half-length to Street Sense in last year's Travers (gr. I), is coming off a third-place finish in the Whitney Handicap (gr. I), a race Commentator simply ran away with. Making his Monmouth debut for trainer Neil Howard, the 4-year-old son of Dixie Union seems well spotted to reverse a five-race losing streak dating back to February's Mineshaft Handicap (gr. III) at Fair Grounds.
Edward P. Evans' homebred Pleasant Strike tuned up for the Iselin with a 10-length romp in an optional claiming event in the mud at Colonial July 27. The Todd Pletcher trainee, a 4-year-old Smart Strike colt, won the Arlington Classic (gr. IIIT) last year on the turf.
The speedy Shopton Lane, owned by Maggi Moss and trained by Bruce Levine, has won a pair of stakes in his last three starts. Winer of eight of his 16 lifetime starts, the 4-year-old son of Quiet American put together a four-race win streak last year.
Actin Good, off since February, won the Pegasus (gr. III) last fall over a sloppy strip at Monmouth, where he has never been worse than third in five starts, including a pair of victories. The 4-year-old Yes It's True gelding is one of two entered by trainer Bobby Dibona, who also starts Cuba.
Cuba, a 7-year-old New Jersey-bred by Not for Love, will be swinging right back into action just 13 days after winning the Charles Hesse III Handicap at Monmouth Aug. 3. Dibona claimed him for $18,000 at Gulfstream Park in February. Since then Cuba has won five races and earned more than $150,000.
“They both deserve a chance in the Iselin,” Dibona said. “I’ve never seen Actin Good act this good. And Cuba, what can I say? He’s 7 and in the best form of his life. I want to give him a chance again in the big time.”
Actin Good, who has enjoyed most of his success sprinting, returns off a string of sharp drills. The most recent, five furlongs in 1:00 1/5 Aug. 9, was best of 28 at the distance that day.
“He's always been a very difficult horse to train,” Dibona said. “Always wanted to do things his way. But now he’s focused and doing everything right. I guess it’s maturity. Every work lately has been wonderful.”
Five Steps was a five-length winner of the R.M. Carpenter Memorial Handicap at Delaware Park most recently. The Maryland bred has won five of six starts for trainer Christopher Grove over the past 13 1/2 months.
Honest Man, third in the Salvator Mile for trainer Larry Jones, won five of six races prior to that.
Kiss the Kid comes off a second-place finish as the favorite in the Bob Harding Stakes on Monmouth's turf course. July 5.
$300,000 Philip H. Iselin Stakes (gr. III, Race 9, 4:52 p.m.), 3 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Gottcha Gold (FL), 121, Elvis Trujillo
2. Cuba (NJ), 119, Pedro L. Cotto, Jr.
3. Honest Man (KY), 117, Terry J. Thompson
4. Five Steps (MD), 119, J. D. Acosta
5. Actin Good (FL), 117, Carlos H. Marquez, Jr.
6. Kiss the Kid (KY), 117, Daniel Centeno
7. Pleasant Strike (VA), 117, Joe Bravo
8. Grasshopper (KY), 121, Robby Albarado
9. Shopton Lane (FL), 117, Jose Lezcano