By Tom LaMarra
Harlan Punch, owned and trained by David Jacobson, made his MATCH Series debut a winning one with a gate-to-wire score in the grade III, $100,000 Philip H. Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park June 30.
The Iselin is the second leg of the MATCH 3-Year-Olds and Up Long–Dirt Division. Harlan Punch, a 5-year-old gelding by Harlan’s Holiday, earned 10 points for this victory. That puts him second behind the 8-year-old gelding Page McKenney, who finished a game second in the Iselin to pick up seven points, which puts his total at 17.
The Iselin scratched down to four horses from seven. Harlan Punch took over from the start under Joe Bravo and set a moderate pace that clearly worked to his benefit; the winning margin was 5 1/4 lengths and the time for the 1 1/16 miles on a fast track was 1:44.53.
“Joe Bravo rode him perfectly, as he always does for me,” Jacobson said. “It was a perfect ride and the race just set up perfectly for us. When that horse gets to the lead he’s tough. He gets in front and he gets his ears up, he relaxes and he’s tough to beat. It’s the first of many more graded stakes for him I hope.”
“I’m probably the biggest Page McKenney fan there is but when you’ve got a horse that is lone speed it’s hard to beat,” Bravo said. “He was out there by himself. He ran off with me. He was the best horse and he was out there by himself. It’s hard to catch a walking dog.”
Mary Eppler, who trains Page McKenney for Adam Staple and Jalin Stable, said she thought the small field could be problematic for Page McKenney, who prefers to come from off the pace. He made a backstretch bid to briefly challenge the leader, dropped back on the outside and then re-rallied to defeat Backsideofthemoon for second.
Imperative, who stumbled at the break, finished fourth in his first start in about 14 months. Harlan Punch ended up a slight favorite and returned $4.40 to win.
Eppler said Page McKenney, who won the grade III Salvator Mile to kick off the MATCH Series division, came out of the Iselin in good order. She said the third race in the division, the grade III, $150,000 Monmouth Cup July 29, is on the radar.