Another horse trained by a Marylander can ascend into the top ranks today when Broken Vow contests the Philip H. Iselin Handicap at Monmouth Park.
Trained by H. Graham Motion, who is based at Laurel Park with a string at Delaware Park, Broken Vow holds the distinction of being the only horse in the country who has earned a 115 Beyer Speed Figure three times this year.
A Kentucky-bred son of Unbridled and the Nijinsky II mare Wedding Vow, Broken Vow has won eight of 11 races, including the Sir Barton Stakes at 3 and the Grade III Ben Ali Stakes this year at 4. In both the Grade I Gulfstream Park Handicap and Grade II Massachusetts Handicap, he finished third.
"Up to now, when he's run in Grade I's and Grade II's, he's not quite been good enough," Motion said. "I think he's had legitimate excuses in those races.
"But this weekend, we don't want to have any excuses. This is going to be the telltale race. He's got to go out there and prove he can run with these horses."
The Iselin Handicap at 1 1/8 miles is a Grade II stakes worth $350,000. Broken Vow will likely be the odds-on favorite in a small field that includes Sir Bear and North East Bound.
Owned and bred by Josephine Abercrombie (Pin Oak Stable and Pin Oak Stud, Versailles, Ky.), Broken Vow did not start racing until he was 3. He won his first four races, but developed a physical problem after the Sir Barton on Preakness Day.
Motion said the problem was never pinpointed, but that Abercrombie, conservative by nature, decided to give Broken Vow the summer off. Motion began training him again last fall with the idea of bringing him along slowly.
Although Ramon Dominguez rode the colt his last two races and will ride him today, Edgar Prado piloted Broken Vow in eight of his races.
"Edgar always felt that this horse could be any kind of horse if he'd just relax," Motion said. "So we decided to pick some easy spots and build his confidence up and try to get him to relax. I think, in his last two races, he's proven that he's finally learned to do that."
If Broken Vow fulfills his promise and wins the Iselin, Motion will point the robust colt to the Breeders' Cup Classic. He could be the second Maryland horse in that race.
Include has successfully undergone treatment for his splint injury and resumed galloping at Laurel Park, said his trainer, Bud Delp. If all goes well, Delp said, Include will breeze around Sept. 1 and then run Sept. 22 in the Kentucky Cup Classic at Turfway Park or Sept. 28 in the Meadowlands Cup at the Meadowlands.
The Breeders' Cup Classic is possible after that, but, Delp said: "If we're going to make the Breeders' Cup, everything's got to go right. We can't miss a beat from here on out."
The Pons family of Country Life Farm has purchased Merryland Farm in Hydes in Baltimore County and renamed it Country Life Nursery at Merryland Farm. The Ponses bought the 160-acre farm in Long Green Valley from Bill Rickman Sr., who purchased it at auction in 1999.
Bursting at the seams of their 100 acres near Bel Air, Country Life will keep its stallions at the home farm and send its mares, babies and yearlings to Merryland, which will be "the factory," Mike Pons said.
Mike and his brother, Josh, said the new farm with its 83 stalls, 12 run-in sheds and five-eighths-mile training track will allow their farm to spread out and eventually expand. Allen's Prospect, their featured stallion, leads the nation's stallions this year in winners.
Danny Shea, a trainer and outstanding show rider, started Merryland about 1940. He died in 1959, but his wife, Betty Shea Miller, whom he'd married a decade before, stayed on and managed the farm until 1987. In its heyday, Merryland was a showplace that garnered national respect.
"I feel marvelous about the Ponses buying it," Miller said. "I'm hoping they'll be able to get it back to where it once was."
Bonita adds `Moon'
Bonita Farm has added Mojave Moon to its stallion roster for the 2002 season. A 5-year-old son of Mr. Prospector and East of the Moon, a champion 3-year-old filly in France, Mojave Moon will stand for $7,500.
Property of a syndicate, Mojave Moon was retired this year from Bobby Frankel's barn with a minor injury after running in one race. Last year, the striking chestnut finished second in the Grade III Fayette Breeders' Cup at Keeneland and third in the Grade II Californian Stakes at Hollywood Park.
"He's going to be a nice stallion for this region," Billy Boniface said of Bonita. "He's got the looks to go along with his pedigree."
Tom Voss, trainer of John's Call, plans on breezing the 10-year-old gelding tomorrow at Saratoga. For John's Call, this will be the first work since finishing last (and bleeding profusely from the lungs) Aug. 11 in the Sword Dancer Invitational Handicap, and the first time he has ever run on Lasix, the anti-bleeding medication.
Voss said the cooler weather in upstate New York has reinvigorated John's Call. If the gelding runs well on Lasix, Voss hopes to find a race for him next month.
"He's back to his old self again," Voss said
After breezing Fleet Renee five furlongs yesterday at his Tapeta Farm in Cecil County, trainer Michael Dickinson said the 3-year-old filly is on track for the Gazelle Handicap Sept. 8 and the Breeders' Cup Distaff Oct. 27, both at Belmont Park.
Making his first public comment about not running Fleet Renee in the Alabama Stakes, Dickinson said: `There was nothing specific wrong with her before the Alabama, but she wasn't on top of her game. ... She's as good now as she was, maybe even a shade better."