Juddmonte Farms homebred First Defence, a late-developing 3-year-old who was not ready for this year’s Triple Crown events, steps it up Saturday for trainer Bobby Frankel in the $150,000 Long Branch Breeders' Cup, Monmouth's local prep for the $1 million Haskell Invitational (gr. I) on Aug. 5.
The Kentucky-bred colt by Unbridled’s Song has made just four lifetime starts. His only race this year was an allowance victory at Belmont on May 26. He was entered in Belmont’s Dwyer Stakes (gr. III) last Saturday, but scratched.
“We thought the Long Branch might be an easier spot for him,” Frankel said. “He came back from the last race very good. Now we’re hoping he runs back to that race.”
First Defence made his first start in more than six months in the Belmont allowance at seven furlongs. He was very sharp coming off the bench, sprinting to the lead early, and then gradually increasing his margin to the wire.
He first came out as a 2-year-old last July at Saratoga, but stopped badly after showing speed. Some minor problems kept him sidelined until Oct. 13, when he broke his maiden by more than eight lengths under wraps in an impressive performance.
The colt’s final try as a 2-year-old came in a two-turn allowance event at Churchill Downs during Breeders’ Cup Week when he ran second to Zanjero, a Kentucky Derby Presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) starter this year.
The Long Branch will be just the second try around two turns for First Defence, and Frankel expects him to be “forwardly placed” in the 1 1/16-mile event. But the stakes is also important as a test to see where his future lies.
“The Haskell?” Frankel said. “We’ll know more Saturday.”
Regular rider Javier Castellano will be in from New York to take the mount.
$150,000 Long Branch Breeders' Cup Stakes (Race 9, 4:42 p.m.), 3-Year-Olds, 1 1/16 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey
1. Brush On By (KY), Daniel Centeno
2. Get Serious (NY), Charles C. Lopez
3. Keeneland Kid (KY), Jose A. Velez, Jr.
4. Crusader Rabbit (FL), Eddie Castro
5. Saratoga Lulaby (KY), Joe Bravo
6. First Defence (KY), Javier Castellano
Each assigned 117 pounds.