Graded stakes winner Gators N Bears seeks redemption for his only loss at Monmouth Park in the $100,000 Friendly Lover Handicap Saturday, part of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival.
Gators N Bears burst onto the Monmouth scene in 2003 as an ultra-quick 3-year-old sprinter, winning the Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup (gr. III) and two other races. He's been absent from Monmouth since running in the Friendly Lover Handicap in the inaugural New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival that summer.
In the two years since, New Jersey-bred Gators N Bears has gone on to become one of the best sprinters in the mid-Atlantic region, running in graded stakes at Saratoga, Churchill Downs, Pimlico and Laurel.
On Saturday, he will try to atone for his only blemish in four starts over this surface – a third-place finish in the Friendly Lover.
Monmouth fans will have their last chance to watch the accomplished speedster, as he will only make three more starts and be retired to stud at the end of the year.
"We love him," said Maryland-based Leo Nechamkin II, Gators N Bears' trainer and owner. "He's taken us everywhere you could want to go in racing. But we have always tried to keep him in races where his credentials would be in order."
Gators N Bears has been the epitome of consistency at Monmouth, where he won the Rumson Stakes and Jersey Shore.
In one of the best careers of a New Jersey-bred in the last decade, Gators N Bears has 10 wins in 30 starts, and only finished out of the money six times. He has earned $803,393 for Nechamkin.
He hasn't suffered any major injuries and has been in training for essentially three and a half years.
As consistent as he's been, Gators N Bears has had trouble reaching the winner's circle in top company. He hasn't won a race since the James B. Moseley Handicap at Suffolk Downs June 19 last year, a span of eight races over 15 months.
After the Friendly Lover, Nechamkin said Gators N Bears will run twice more before retiring – in the Phoenix Breeders' Cup Stakes (gr. III) at Keeneland Oct. 8 and the DeFrancis Dash (gr. I) Nov. 19 over his home track of Laurel.
Nechamkin said Gators N Bears has been syndicated to Stonewall Farm, where he will comprise the first group of stallions there. Audrey Haisfield plans to start a new stallion operation in 2006 at the farm in Midway, Kentucky. Gators N Bears will join such stallions as Medaglia d'Oro, Marquetry, and Doneraile Court, who Haisfield owns and plans to move from Hill 'n' Dale Farm.
Elsewhere in the New Jersey Festival, which includes five stakes for New Jersey breds, I'mtoogoodtobetrue looks to continue an impressive run in the $100,000 Jersey Girl Handicap for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles.
I'mtoogoodtobetrue was already an accomplished sprinter before running in the Girl Powder Handicap on Aug. 21. But in her first try going two turns, the 3-year-old filly showed versatility that impressed trainer Ned Allard.
She went wire to wire in the Girl Powder – her first race past six furlongs – and improved her stellar record to four wins and four seconds in eight starts. On Saturday, she faces seven rivals.
"I was really impressed with her last race," Allard said. "She may be better going long."
There are two other $100,000 races on the Monmouth card – the Eleven North for fillies and mares at six furlongs, and the Jersey Breeders' Handicap at 1 1/16 miles. There is one other stakes race and a total of $700,000 in purses offered.