OCEANPORT, N.J. -- Trainer Gary Stute wants Papa Clem to regain that winning feeling Saturday in the $175,000 Long Branch Stakes for 3-year-olds at Monmouth Park.
The 1 1/16-mile Long Branch is the traditional prep for the biggest race of the meet: the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 2.
With $890,940 already in the bank, Papa Clem has earned more than his seven rivals combined. He has well-established Grade 2 credentials, having won the Arkansas Derby and finished second in the Louisiana Derby and the Bob Lewis Stakes.
He took two swings in the Triple Crown, a fourth following a roughly run stretch drive in the Kentucky Derby and a sixth in the Preakness.
Papa Clem has faced the best of his generation. Now he needs a win.
"We have to build his confidence again," Stute said.
This certainly looks like the spot.
Owner Bo Hirsch was originally looking at the Dwyer at Belmont Park last weekend as Papa Clem's comeback spot until jockey Rafael Bejarano threw cold water on that idea.
"Rafael said the one-turn race on that track, I don't think he'll like it," Stute said. "Then the owner called me and asked about this race. It's not a graded stakes, but he has enough graded placings."
To give Papa Clem every advantage, Stute shipped the colt to the Jersey Shore from Southern California well in advance of the race. He had an easy five-furlong breeze in 1:03.40 on Monday.
"He's probably not 100 percent but he's pretty darn close," Stute said. "He should be fit."
Bejarano elected to stay in California this weekend, putting Elvis Trujillo, Monmouth's leading rider, in the saddle.
Speed is always an asset at Monmouth, so expect Papa Clem to play a prominent role right from the start.
"Originally, everyone thought of him as a speed horse, but I never did," Stute said. "He'll be laying close. He's not too far off the lead in most of his races."
Atomic Rain was added to the Kentucky Derby field the Tuesday before the race when Take the Points was withdrawn. He ran 16th in that ambitious placement. Atomic Rain has since captured a first-level allowance race here and should be razor sharp following a pair of bullet works.
"He's breezed well," trainer Kelly Breen said. "He's training well. He's very alert and attentive. He is eager to do something. This will be a big test for him."
Atomic Rain will be coupled with stablemate Rapid Redux.
Trainer Nick Zito also sends out an entry: Santana Six and Nowhere to Hide.
Completing the field are Despite the Odds, winner of the off-the-turf Hill Prince Stakes at Belmont; Lord Justice, who led all the way in Monmouth's Spend a Buck Stakes; and Omniscient.
Battlefield: Old-timers still tough
Hotstufanthensome, Silver Tree, and Ballonenostrikes, a trio of still-spry 9-year-olds, bring their wealth of back class to the $70,000 Battlefield Stakes at one mile on the turf.
Hotstufanthensome showed no signs of rust, winning his season debut while posting a snappy 93 Beyer Speed Figure.
"It was a good race off the layoff," said trainer Ben Perkins Jr. "The turf seems to keep them around a little longer."
Silver Tree, a career winner of $1.7 million, rallied for third here in the Elkwood Stakes in May, while Ballonenostrikes makes his season debut.
Get Serious, the Elkwood winner, is back on grass after running fifth in the Skip Away Stakes on the main track.
"He's been training really good," said Pat McBurney, who shares the training with John Forbes. "We're happy to get him back on the turf."