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Moonhanger gets class test in Long Branch

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 (G1).

 

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 improving.”

 

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 winner.

 

“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.”

 

 

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