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Breeders' Cup 2017

Monmouth Park Barn Notes - August 24

New Monmouth Park logo
Kelly Breen is thinking a return to his home track and to his best distance will put Sleepless Knight in serious contention Sunday as a field of seven goes in the $100,000 Cliff Hanger Stakes (G3) on the grass.

Sleepless Knight has won five races in his career of 30 starts, and four of them have come at the Cliff Hanger distance of a mile and a sixteenth. The 7-year-old son of War Chant is coming off a poor performance in an allowance event at Saratoga, where he finished last of nine.

“We screwed up that last race,” Breen said. “We put him up on the pace tracking better horses. That was some allowance race. I think there were two Grade 1 winners in there.”

Sleepless Knight backed up badly after contesting the pace for more than a half-mile, finishing seven lengths behind the top trio of  Seal Cove, Turallure and Hoofit.

In his previous start, the Elkwood at one mile on grass here, Sleepless Knight came from off the pace in the stretch, gained the lead, and then lost the decision at the wire as Change of Command beat him a neck.

Now he’s back on the Monmouth grass, and Breen thinks that’s for the best.

“It’s always good when you don’t have to ship,” he said. “There’s a lot of speed in the Cliff Hanger, and he can run his race. We’re expecting a better performance this race.”

Helping Sleepless Knight run his best will be Paco Lopez, who holds a commanding lead in Monmouth’s jockey race. Lopez has a win and a second in four rides on Sleepless Knight.

Sleepless Knight, who is still an entire horse, is owned by George and Lori Hall. He started his career at Monmouth on a bright note, taking the Lamplighter Stakes here in 2009, when he won two of three starts. In 2010, he again demonstrated his talent with one win in three starts. Over the last three seasons, he’s flashed brilliance at times – a second to Teaks North in the Grade 3 Monmouth Stakes in 2011 was top stuff – but he’s often fallen just short. He’s made only 30 starts in five seasons, and has run second eight times to go with five wins and four thirds.

“It’s always been something with him,” Breen said. “He always has issues. But he’s the oldest runner the Halls own, and he’s running well right now.”

The Cliff Hanger, final graded stakes on turf this season, also drew Patricia Generazio’s Tune Me In, Team Valor International’s Howe Great, R R Partners’ Hudson Steele, High Point Thoroughbred Partners’ Hobo Ridge and Fire Alarm, and Waterford Stable’s Summer Front.

Tune Me In, trained by Bruce Alexander, won the Cliff Hanger last year coming off a victory in the Grade 3 Oceanport. This year, the 6-year-old is winless in four starts at Monmouth and ran seventh in the Oceanport.

Summer Front, a graded stakes winner the last two years, makes his first start since April on Sunday and gets Joe Bravo aboard.

Howe Great and Hudson Steele, second and third in the Oceanport (won by Silver Max) will renew their rivalry.

Hobo Ridge and Fire Alarm, both trained by Jorge Navarro, will be looking for their first stakes win.




On paper, Sunday’s $75,000 Lady’s Secret Stakes, which goes as the third race on the card, looks to be a piece of cake for Summer Applause, a multiple graded stakes winner trained by Chad Brown.

But in horseracing, they make even “sure things” run around the track, because in horseracing, stuff happens.

Which leads to Chuck Spina sending out Winiliscious, a filly he claimed last year for $7,500 – a long, long way from graded stakes company.

“Of course it’s a tough race,” Spina said, “and Summer Applause lays over the field. But you never know.”

Winning a race like this would be icing on the cupcake for Spina and Winiliscious. Even if she does nothing Sunday, the filly would still rank as one of the best claims ever for the trainer.

Spina claimed Winiliscious for $7,500 out of a winning race at Monmouth on May 20 last year.

In her first start for the new trainer, the daughter of Lawyer Ron won for a $28,000 claiming tag and then after a rare loss on June 16, went on to win three starter-handicaps in a row. She finished the year with seven wins in 11 starts.

This year, Winiliscious started with a third on turf at Atlantic City, and then ran a big one to be second in the Monmouth Beach Stakes here. In her last two starts, the filly was far back in the Lighthouse Stakes, and then was fourth in the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher behind the runaway winner Joyful Victory.

“I really expected her to win the Monmouth Beach,” Spina said. “Second race off a layoff, turf to dirt. It looked like the right spot. And she ran well, but got beat.

“In the Lighthouse, she just bounced off that race and didn’t run at all. In the Molly Pitcher, she was just a bad fourth, but nobody was catching that winner.”

On Sunday, Winiliscious will be reunited with jockey Navin Mangalee, who has been aboard in all five of the filly’s Monmouth wins. Mangalee suffered a broken collarbone early this year, and then had several setbacks in his recovery. He started riding again just two weeks ago.

Winiliscious has earned $209,670 in her career, and Spina says that $150,000 of that has come since the claim, making her a bargain of bargains. She’s owned by the Top Shelf Stable LLC, which consists of Spina and nine other partners.

Another claim that Spina points to proudly is Who’s the Cowboy. One of the most popular horses ever to race at Monmouth, the New Jersey-bred was already 9 years old when Spina took him from Peter Walder for $15,000 in 2011. Racing in allowance-optional claiming races and straight claimers, the gritty sprinter won two races and had four seconds and two thirds for Spina.

“He earned something like $110,000 for us,” Spina said. “He was one tough customer.”

Who’s the Cowboy, who was bred by the Sleeter Family in Clementon, N.J., raced twice this year for Skip Einhorn, and then at the end of June was retired to live out his days at the Sleeter farm.

“He’s going to parade here on new Jersey Thoroughbred Festival Day (Sept. 21),” Spina said, “just like Joey P. did last year. Two of the best Jersey-breds ever.”





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