Who'll face Big Brown for $500K at Monmouth?

OCEANPORT, N.J. -- If Big Brown does indeed run in the Sept. 13 Monmouth Stakes, as expected, the $200,000 purse jumps to $500,000, a big reason why the race closed Wednesday with 35 nominations. But even with that kind of money on the line there are lots of alternatives for area turf horses, which makes it difficult to zero in on the probable field.

For instance, Philadelphia Park hosts the PTHA President's Cup the same day, at the same 1 1/8-mile distance, with a purse of $250,000. Trainer Dennis Manning, who has nominated Victory Alleged and Oneballnostrikes to both races, said that at this early juncture he's just waiting to see what happens.

"I'll probably run one horse in one race and one in the other, but it's all up in the air right now," Manning said

He's not alone in indecision. Of the 35 runners nominated for the Monmouth Stakes, 17 are also nominated for the PTHA President's Cup. Also among them are Shakis, Proudinsky, Get Serious, and Silver Tree - though all are considered as probables for the Monmouth Stakes. Other probable runners include Shake the Bank and Kiss the Kid.

Though Manning has yet to firmly decide which horse will go in which race, he is leaning slightly in one direction.

"Ballonenostrikes likes a hard course, and Victory Alleged likes a softer course, and the course at Philly is a little softer," he said. "That's as of right now, though. We'll see."

Both Victory Alleged and Ballonenostrikes are closers in need of pace, but Manning isn't concerned with the race flow in the Monmouth Stakes. He's more worried about the horse who may be setting the pace. Some trainers are looking forward to taking a shot against Big Brown, but Manning has a great deal of respect for the nation's top 3-year-old, and his potential as a grass horse.

"There will be plenty of speed in there as long as Big Brown is in there," he said. "I'm just on the outside looking in, but I think Big Brown is going to show he's an exceptionally good horse on the turf."

Victory Alleged was hurt by a lack of pace in his latest start, an optional claiming race won by Get Serious, who shook loose through slow early fractions and came home very quickly, giving the ralliers almost no chance.

Get Serious, who was gelded earlier this year, has impressed since returning from the layoff, winning two straight on the Monmouth Park turf course. While the Monmouth Stakes would be a boost in class for Get Serious, trainer Pat McBurney feels like he's ready for better, whether it's here, in Philly, or even in the Ashley T. Cole Stakes for New York-breds on Sept. 14 at Belmont.

"We would love to stay home," said McBurney. "He does like the course, so we feel like we'll have home-court advantage, and if it stays hot like it is now we'd prefer not to ship."

* Saturday's feature at Monmouth is the $70,000 Formal Gold Stakes, which drew a field of five, led by Shopton Lane, winner of the Skip Away in his last start. The Formal Gold, the eighth of nine races on the card, will be run at one mile and 70 yards.