Monmouth Park Race Report: Quick Cat

Published in the Aug. 24 issue of The Blood-Horse
Speed has always been king at Monmouth Park. That was never more apparent than in the $350,000 Philip H. Iselin Handicap (gr. II), when Edward P. Evans' Cat's At Home stole away to an easy lead and defeated a solid cast of older horses, which included Robert E. Meyerhoff's millionaire Include.

It was the best field assembled for the Iselin, named after the late president and chairman of the board of Monmouth, since 1998, when Carolyn Hine's Horse of the Year Skip Away was the star attraction. That year, management changed the distance of the race from 1 1/16 miles to 1 1/8 miles specifically for Skip Away, and the heavily-favored gray nearly was defeated by the Mark Hennig-trained Stormin Fever.

Hennig only had to wait four years before Cat's At Home gave him his first Iselin win, this time beating the odds-on favorite, Include.

A 5-year-old son of Tabasco Cat, out of the Buckaroo mare Homewrecker, Cat's At Home had only won once before in 2002, but that was in the $50,000 Skip Away Stakes at Monmouth on June 30, which he won gate-to-wire. The same game plan was in effect for the Iselin.

"He'd been showing so much speed lately that I told Jose (jockey Velez Jr.) to go for it, but save some for the end," said Hennig's assistant, Rob Radar.

Include, a grade I winner, certainly looked on paper to be the horse to beat. But there were some questions about his fitness, as he had started only twice this year, the last time finishing third in the MassCap (gr. II) on June 1. Trainer Grover "Bud" Delp said a cough caused the 11-week layoff, and that the reason the 5-year-old entered the track with front bandages was to prevent him from running down over Monmouth's surface.

However, it was not the old Include who ran in the Iselin. He bobbled slightly at the start, then never got into the mix under jockey Jerry Bailey, who had flown down from Saratoga for the assignment. Bailey went to the whip as they headed into the far turn, but it was obvious that Include would not win the 67th Iselin.

Instead, Cat's At Home was skimming the golden rail up front, running easily under Velez. The biggest challenge came nearing the eighth pole, when second choice Bowman's Band, under Eibar Coa, charged up and appeared to have enough momentum to cruise past the leader. Cat's At Home, sent off at 10-1, still had something left and held that rival at bay, zipping under the wire three-quarters of a length in front. Another longshot, the 37-1 Runspastum, rallied for third. Include finished sixth of seven runners.

"At the five-sixteenths pole, I saw someone swinging out behind me, and I figured it was Include, but it was Coa's horse (Bowman's Band)," said Velez.

Bailey had "no comment," after the race, while Delp said he was puzzled by Include's performance but thought he pulled up well.

The victory was the ninth from 26 starts for Cat's At Home, who now has earned $677,857.

Oaks by Storm
For years, the Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. II) occupied a late July position on the racing calendar. It consistently drew stellar fields of 3-year-old fillies, and was used last year as a springboard to victory in the Breeders' Cup Distaff (gr. I) by Roger Devenport's Unbridled Elaine.

This season, track management moved the Oaks back three weeks, to Aug. 17, unfortunately being run the same date as the Alabama Stakes (gr. I) at Saratoga. The results were dramatic. Only five fillies showed up to contest the 1 1/8-mile test, none of which were graded stakes winners.

The winner on a hot, extremely humid afternoon was Overbrook Farm and William Marquard's Magic Storm, a daughter of Storm Cat trained by D. Wayne Lukas. Magic Storm was originally listed to be ridden by Chuck C. Lopez, but Lopez was injured in the race prior to the Oaks and Lukas went to Eddie King Jr. for the last-minute assignment.

King muscled Magic Storm between horses in midstretch to get the victory by a half-length, with Pin Oak Stable's favored Alternate, recently second in the Delaware Oaks (gr. III), settling for second after a wide trip.

In winning her first stakes event, Magic Storm bettered her record to three wins from eight starts, and has earned $246,335.

(Chart, Equibase)