Papi Chullo likely for Iselin
OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Papi Chullo will likely make his first appearance at Monmouth Park in more than two years on Saturday in the Grade 3, $300,000 Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup Stakes.
The 5-year-old's only prior effort on the Jersey Shore came in the 2005 Haskell Invitational, where he ran with the early leaders before finishing 12 1/4 lengths behind Roman Ruler.
The gray horse has changed barns several times since then and came to hand at Belmont Park this spring with a pair of impressive wins for trainer Gary Contessa that produced triple-digit Beyer Speed Figures.
Contessa was so confident that he took a big swing: the Grade 1 Whitney Handicap at Saratoga, where Papi Chullo finished ninth.
"I went into the Whitney fully believing he would win it," said Contessa. "Horses on the inside that day were stopping like they were shot. All day long, you won in the middle of the racetrack. My horse had an inside post, was running well on the inside, and never had a chance to get to the outside."
Contessa feels the horse was never comfortable on the surface, which was listed as fast.
"Eibar Coa, who had just won two in a row on him, told me he felt like a horse running in the slop who didn't like the mud," Contessa said.
Fearing that Papi Chullo might not be suited to Saratoga, Contessa went hunting for an alternative destination and found the Iselin.
"I am certainly leaning in that direction," Contessa said.
Papi Chullo had his final Iselin breeze Saturday over the Oklahoma training track at Saratoga, going five furlongs in 1:03.20.
"I feel real good about his work," Contessa said. "He's ready for the next race."
Papi Chullo will remain with Contessa's Saratoga division until Saturday morning, when he will travel to Monmouth.
Contessa has already lined up the services of Joe Bravo, Monmouth's leading rider.
The addition of Papi Chullo would strengthen a solid Iselin lineup. Monmouth's stakes coordinator, Mike Melendez, also expects Master Command, winner of last year's Meadowlands Cup and three graded stakes this year; Gottcha Gold, the upset winner over Whitney winner Lawyer Ron here in the Salvator Mile; Brother Bobby, the runner-up to Lawyer Ron in the Oaklawn Handicap; Indy Wind, a winner of two Monmouth overnight stakes this meet; and Barcola, who captured stakes at Delaware Park in his last two outings.
Servis barn heating up
Jason Servis has been on a big roll lately at Monmouth, moving into second place in the trainer standings. He is 25 for 80 at the meet, only four victories behind Todd Pletcher.
Servis, leading trainer the last two years at the Meadowlands, is on pace for his best-ever Monmouth season.
"I think we got a lot of the right horses for the right spots," Servis said. "We claimed some decent horses this spring at Churchill Downs and in New York. There have been a lot of spots that fit my horses really good."
Servis had a perfect fit Saturday with Safe Play, winner of the $60,000 My Frenchman Stakes, an off-the-turf race that scratched down to three runners.
"I kind of like those horses with back class," Servis said.
Servis will send out three runners on Wednesday's card including Astrologist, a veteran with abundant back class, in the seventh race, a turf claimer for horses carrying tags of $18,000 to $20,000.
The 9-year-old Astrologist has won 15 of 52 races with career earnings of $387,200. Astrologist is 3 for 4 on Monmouth's turf course, including front-running victories in his last two races.
With his recent success, Astrologist will carry top weight in the field at 124 pounds.
"They are packing the weight on him," Servis said. "He hates the inner track at Aqueduct and he loves this course. I think the older horses sometimes do better on the turf, because they get to a point where they don't want to run on dirt anymore."
The other two Servis runners Wednesday are less experienced.
The trainer will add blinkers and stretch Playmelancholybaby out to a mile and 70 yards in a $50,000 second-level allowance for New Jersey-breds in the eighth race, while Haze My Man will drop in for an $18,000 claiming price in the fifth race.