Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO

Monmouth Welcomes Back Juveniles This Weekend

Races for 2-year-olds will kick off the programs at New Jersey track June 1-2.

Pay close attention to the first races of the day at Monmouth Park Saturday and Sunday, June 1-2. This could be the start of something big.

Two-year-old racing, always eagerly awaited at the New Jersey track, makes its return with six fillies entered in Saturday's maiden special weight event at 4 1/2 furlongs. On Sunday, the boys have their chance in the first race of the day, also at 4 1/2 furlongs.

Sunday's sprint for juvenile males drew a field of five, including the Eddie Plesa Jr. trainee Yes I'm Lucky, who sold for $105,000 at the Ocala Breeders Sales in March. Jane Cibelli, leading trainer at Monmouth the last two years, has Pomeroy's Package in there, and Kelly Breen is represented by Rachel's Quest. Clovis Crane ships in One Eyed Clyde from Penn National Race Course.

But the one to watch is New Farm's Holy Rocker, a son of Rockport Harbor trained by Ben Perkins Jr. It's always been worth watching a Perkins-trained 2-year-old at Monmouth. Between Ben Jr. and father Ben Sr., the Perkins family has probably accounted for more than 50 juvenile winners at Monmouth through the decades. Holy Rocker could be the latest in a long line.

"A lot of good horses have broken their maiden at Monmouth," Perkins said. "Most of our good ones won here, including Storm Tower and Wildcat Heir. And the three fillies who won the Sorority (Stormy Pick, Forest Heiress, and Wild Snitch) all broke their maiden here.

"I remember so many 2-year-old races here," Perkins said. "And always tough. We beat Skip Away with Cold Snap (1995) in their first start. And the next year, we beat Smoke Glacken with Confide.

"You never know what kind of horses you're going to hook. I remember a baby race here in 2005. We had Mid Town, a horse we liked a lot. Then I saw Henny Hughes walk into the paddock and I knew we were in deep trouble."

Henny Hughes beat Mid Town by six that June 17 and went on to win a pair of grade I sprints in 2006.

"One of the baby races that really stands out in my mind was in 2004," Perkins said. "We didn't have anybody in the race, but this one horse looked like a rocket ship. It was Joey P. Right after the race, I asked (the late trainer) Frankie Costa if he was for sale."

For the record, Joey P. broke his maiden by 6 1/4 lengths and stayed the property of John Petrini. Perkins eventually became the trainer of Joey P.

The fact that really good horses come out of Monmouth maiden races is well-documented. Since the 1960s, eight champions and a host of major stakes winners have gotten their start at the Oceanport oval.

The champions who came out of Monmouth maiden races were Tosmah (1963), Candy Éclair (1978), Lord Avie (1980), Open Mind (1988), Dehere (1993), Holy Bull (1994), Skip Away (a champion in 1996, 1997 and 1998), and Smoke Glacken (1996).