Every year, the $150,000 Long
Branch Stakes brings the promise of new names as the 3-year-olds get ready to
kick off their second season in Monmouth’s $1 million Haskell Invitational
The Long Branch, which will
be renewed this Saturday for the 77th time, traditionally offers a
Haskell bid to the top finishers. The mile and a sixteenth race also serves as
a platform for late-developing 3-year-olds, and a comeback trail for runners
who fell off the Triple Crown chase earlier in the year.
One of those getting back
into action this summer is Moonhanger, a son of Malibu Moon owned and trained
by Bruce Alexander. The colt, a $40,000 yearling purchase at Ocala, returned to the races here on June 4
with a sharp allowance victory. In that mile and 70-yard test, he beat Nacho
Saint, one of his Long Branch
rivals, by nearly four lengths.
“He’s on schedule, at least
the way I planned it,” Alexander said. “I always thought he could be near the
top of the class by August-September. I think he was only 80 percent ready
mentally and condition-wise for the last race, and I believe he’ll keep on
Moonhanger made his debut at
the end of last year’s Monmouth meet, finishing fourth in a sprint on Nov. 20.
“I didn’t really want to
sprint him,” Alexander said, “but I wanted him to race before we went to Tampa
Bay. He ran an acceptable race.”
The colt broke his maiden on
Jan. 22 at Tampa,
in his first start around two turns, scoring by 11 lengths in an off-the-turf
event. Next start, he ran on the grass and was beaten less than a length.
“I ran him on turf because he
didn’t seem to enjoy the Tampa dirt surface,” Alexander said, “and I needed a
race before the Tampa Bay Derby.”
In that Grade 2 event on
March 12, Moonhanger flipped in the gate before the start, was reloaded,
started, and then stopped to a walk, finishing more than 50 lengths behind the
“He really flipped badly,”
Alexander said. “After the race, he looked like he had been in a boxing match.
He was bleeding out of a nostril for weeks, and he was banged up.”
Alexander started breezing
the colt again in May here at Monmouth, and the June 4 race was his first start
back since the bad Florida experience.
“Right now, he’s on the
bubble, and this will be a good test for him,” Alexander said of the Long
Branch. “There’s five or six horses in there with similar styles running on the
pace, and he won’t make an easy lead. I want to see how he handles that.”