First Defence as good as advertised in Long Branch

OCEANPORT – Juddmonte Farms¿ First Defence punched his ticket for the Haskell Invitational Saturday as he led every step to win the $150,000 Long Branch Breeders’ Cup Stakes by two-and-a-quarter lengths at Monmouth Park on Saturday.

The 3-year-old son of Unbridled’s Song, trained by Bobby Frankel and ridden by his regular pilot, Javier Castellano, was sent off the 3-10 favorite in the field of six, and looked every inch the part as he completed the mile and a 16th in 1:42 1/5.

First Defence paid $2.60, $2.10 and $2.10 across the board, and topped a $14.80 exacta with Get Serious, a 7-1 chance who rallied up to take the place, three-and-a-half lengths ahead of Saratoga Lullaby, the 7-2 second choice.

The race held no drama as Castellano put First Defence in front from the gate and then gained confidence as they easily held the lead over Saratoga Lullaby through fractions of :23 3/5 for the quarter, :46 2/5 for the half and 1:10 for six furlongs.

Get Serious made a good move along the rail to take over second but never was a real threat to the winner.

“He was feeling real good today,” Castellano said. “I thought the two horse [Get Serious] would be in front coming out of those sprint races. But as soon as they opened the gates, boom, I was in front. After that I was just letting him go along and make sure he was comfortable.”

It was the third victory in five lifetime starts for First Defence, and the winner’s share of $90,000 boosted his lifetime earnings to $158,195.

The winner of the Long Branch is traditionally extended an invitation to run in the $1 million Haskell Invitational (G1), which will be renewed this year on Aug. 5.

The Haskell is already the choice of three horses because the $5 million Breeders’ Cup Classic will be staged at Monmouth on Oct. 27: Preakness victor Curlin, Kentucky Derby runner-up Hard Spun and Lone Star Derby winner Slew’s Tizzy.

Kentucky Derby winner Street Sense may also compete, depending on whether the impressive 3-year-old runs in Saratoga’s $500,000 Jim Dandy Stakes on July 29.

Either way, First Defence will face a loaded field at the Haskell.

In the $60,000 Bob Harding Stakes on the turf, Snookum Stables¿ Baron Von Tap gained command on the backstretch and held off all challengers through the stretch for a one-length victory.

Three distaff stakes highlight this weekend’s action

This weekend will be devoted to the distaff set at Monmouth, with three of the four stakes scheduled for Saturday and Sunday exclusively for fillies and mares.

On Saturday, Monmouth will offer the $60,000 Incredible Revenge Stakes at five-and-a-half furlongs on the grass for fillies and mares. The $60,000 Serena’s Song Stakes will match 3-year-old fillies at one mile and 70 yards.

On Sunday, 3-year-old filly sprinters have their day in the $60,000 Post-Deb Stakes at five-and-a-half furlongs on the main track.

The other stakes race set for Sunday has its own importance. The $70,000 Skip Away Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at a mile and a 16th serves as a prep for the $300,000 Philip H. Iselin Breeders’ Cup Stakes (G3) that has its 72nd running on Aug. 18.