The Long Branch Stakes (gr. III) has long been a spot for trainers to assess later-developing 3-year-olds, horses who were not ready for the rigors of the Triple Crown trail. The race can also as a prep for local horses looking for an invitation to Monmouth's $1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I) on August 3.
Saturday, the Monmouth-based 3-year-old in that position in the 1 1/16-mile Long Branch is G. Watts Humphrey Jr. & Shining Armor Stable's In Hand. The colt by Belong to Me broke his maiden at Monmouth in May, but trainer Phil Oliver wants to see more before he reaches a judgment on the colt's potential.
Oliver has a history with the Long Branch. In 2000, he came into the race with a lightly raced colt named First Lieutenant, for whom he had high hopes. First Lieutenant went off third choice in the race behind Graeme Hall and Summinitup, but finished fifth as Thistyranthasclass, another local runner, upset the Long Branch.
"He had a terrible trip," Oliver said. "It was a setback for both of us."
First Lieutenant is probably the most talented, most frustrating horse Oliver has ever trained. In 2000, it was the bad Long Branch trip. In 2001, he ran into a tiger named Broken Vow and finished second in the Iselin Handicap. In 2002, he was disqualified after finishing first in the Salvator Mile.
But Oliver can make a fresh start with In Hand, who was third against older horses in an allowance event in his last start at Monmouth.
"First Lieutenant was probably better at this point than In Hand," Oliver said, "but the Long Branch was his fifth start. In Hand has shown enough for me to give him a shot in a stakes. We want to see what we have."
With Joe Bravo riding out of town, Julian Pimentel will have the mount on In Hand for the first time.
Six were entered Thursday for the Long Branch, including R.C. Hill Stable's Christine's Outlaw, beaten a nose in the Leonard Richards Stakes (gr. III) last time out.
Also in the field is Sumaya US Stable's Newfoundland, an allowance winner at Belmont last month.
Passing the race were Sanford Goldfarb's Happy Trails, winner of the Jersey Derby (G3) here in May, Rodney G. Lundock's Supervisor, who ran fifth in the Belmont Stakes behind Empire Maker, and Earle I. Mack's Grand Hombre, winner of his only two career starts.
Dennis Manning, trainer of Grand Hombre, made the decision after the colt breezed :48 4/5 Thursday.
"He's still green," Manning said, "and I wanted him to get a lesson in switching leads." $100,000 Long Branch Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III), 3-year-olds, 1 1/16 mile
Age Restriction: Three Year Old
PP. Horse, Weight, Jockey
1. Newfoundland (KY), 112, Charles C. Lopez
2. Ashmore (KY), 114, Anthony S. Black
3. Max Forever (FL), 112, Jose C. Ferrer
4. In Hand (KY), 112, Julian Pimentel
5. Christine's Outlaw (KY), 112, Jose A. Velez, Jr.
6. Chilly Rooster (FL), 110, Victor Carrero