For 3-year-olds who haven’t made an impact in the Triple
Crown races or other major spring events, the $175,000 Long Branch Stakes,
which will be renewed for the 76th time here Saturday -- represents a final
chance to wangle an invitation to the $1 million IZOD Haskell Invitational (G1)
on Aug. 1, the traditional prize for running first or second.
A field of six was drawn to this year’s edition of the mile and a sixteenth
Long Branch, and they include Southern Ridge, who’s coming off a maiden win;
Trappe Shot, who’s trying two turns for the first time, and Wildcat Lake, who’s
trying stakes company for the first time.
And then there’s George and Lori Hall’s Nacho Friend. The Friends Lake
colt broke his maiden like a superstar here last year, but hasn’t been able to
duplicate that form since. He did win a first-level allowance at Pimlico in
April, but in two starts here, Nacho Friend has run fourth in the Spend a Buck
Stakes and fourth in the Pegasus (G3).
For the Long Branch,
trainer Kelly Breen is making some changes in an attempt to get the colt back
on the winning track. Nacho Friend will run in blinkers for the first time
Saturday, and he’ll be reunited with jockey Joe Bravo, who hasn’t been aboard
since the Sunland Park Derby in March.
“It looks like a wide-open race,” Breen said of the Long Branch, “and we’re trying some new
“We had a strategy for the last two races that backfired,” the trainer said.
“Because his best works were with a target to run at in the stretch, we tried
to rate him back off the pace. So what happens? In both races, the half went in
49 and change. He’s been finishing okay, but those tactics didn’t work.
“We put blinkers on him to keep him focused and have him closer to the pace,”
Nacho Friend wore the blinkers for the first time in a workout here on July 3
and opened some eyes as he zipped a half-mile in :47 1/5 from the gate. The
drill was the best of 72 at the distance that day.