OCEANPORT, N.J. – In a race that features a Todd Pletcher runner who has shown grass ability and a Chad Brown entrant who has competed in four straight graded grass stakes, trainer Jorge Duarte knows it’s a big ask when he sends out the lightly-raced Affable Monarch for his first career turf try in Sunday’s $100,000 Tale of the Cat Stakes at Monmouth Park.
But Duarte, who handles all of the Colts Neck Stables horses, has his reasons.
“He’s a half-brother to Force the Pass, a Grade 1 winner on the turf that we bred, and the mare, Social Queen, was a Grade 3 winner on the turf,” said Duarte. “So it’s not a crazy thing to do.”
Affable Monarch, a son of Arrogate, has shown plenty of ability in his three career starts. He won at first asking in a Maiden Special Weight race at Monmouth Park on Sept. 21 by 6 ½ lengths, then was beaten just a half-length in the Rocky Run Stakes at Delaware Park in his only other race at 2.
He returned this year with a third-place finish in an optional claimer at Pimlico on May 20 despite being steadied early.
Now he will be taking on seven other 3-year-olds, many of them with proven grass track records, in the mile and a sixteenth Tale of the Cat.
“He was kind of a big 2-year-old so we got off to a late start with him last year,” said Duarte. “He is well bred and has always been well regarded. He needed the winter off because of a little setback – nothing major. He came back in that two-turn dirt race at Pimlico and didn’t have a great trip. If you look at the race it was a rough trip.
“In the back of our minds, with his breeding, we wanted to try him on the turf. We breezed him on the turf last week. We were pleased enough with what we saw so we wanted to try him on the turf. We still think he’s a decent horse.”
Duarte is well aware of the challenge the Sunday race presents.
Quality G, trained by Pletcher, was third in the Jersey Derby, beaten just a half-length in his last start. The Brown-trained Portfolio Company put together a pair of seconds in graded stakes company on the turf before faltering in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf last year. The son of Kitten’s Joy was most recently a competitive fifth in his seasonal debut in the Grade 2 American Turf on Kentucky Derby day.
“If he moves up his game on the turf it will be interesting,” Duarte said of Affable Monarch. “I think I have the right rider (Joe Bravo). He knows the turf course at Monmouth. If the turf moves my horse up he will be competitive.”
For Duarte, the Tale of the Cat will be part of a busy weekend. He will be on hand for Saturday’s Goldwood Stakes, named after the Colts Neck Stables runner who won four grass stakes sprints at Monmouth in 2019. With a 4-2-4 line from his first 16 starters at the Monmouth Park meet, Duarte also has Colts Neck Stables in contention to repeat as leading owner.
“We’ve always looked at Monmouth Park as our hub,” he said. “We’re very happy the way things have gone here the past few years.”
Tom Lucci/Monmouth Park
Affable Monarch breaking his maiden at Monmouth Park on Sept. 9, 2021. (Bill Denver/EQUI-PHOTO)