Trainer Bob Hess probably could have found a softer spot for the 2018 debut of Grade 2 winner Imperative, but with an ambitious schedule lined up for the summer the California-based conditioner figures he might as well get his 8-year-old gelding toughened up as quickly as possibly.
Idle since winning the Grade 2 Charles Town Classic on April 22, 2017, Imperative will get his year started in the Grade 3 Iselin Stakes on Saturday at Monmouth Park.
The 13-race card is highlighted by the Grade 1 United Nations and also includes the Grade 3 Eatontown Stakes and the Lady's Secret Stakes.
“He's wonderful,” Hess said of Imperative's readiness after a 14-month layoff. “Physically, he's very healthy now. He just had a lot of little things go wrong and time is our friend so we gave him plenty of time. He's ready to resume his career.
“I'm not sure if he needs a race but he will love the Monmouth Park surface. It should play to his style.”
Hess, who has never started a horse at Monmouth Park, said Imperative is as feisty as ever and eager to get going. The son of Bernardini-Call Her owns a 6-8-3 line from 38 career starts with earnings of $2,973,135.
Hess has only had Imperative for his past three starts – two of them victories – after the horse was purchased privately by Looch Racing and Imaginary Stable last fall.
“I know there are some questions when an older horse comes back after a long layoff, especially if he has had some problems,” said Hess. “Not with this guy. Sometimes you see where an older horse may lose his desire or racing heart. But this guy thinks he's a 2-year-old colt.
“He loves his life, he loves his job and loves to run and it's really my job to keep him healthy and kind of get out of the way.”
Imperative, who is stabled in the barn of trainer Kent Sweezey, a long-time family friend of Hess's, will tackle a buzz saw in Page McKenney, who comes in off a sharp victory in the Grade 3 Salvator Mile at Monmouth Park on May 26. The $300,000 Iselin is at a mile and a sixteenth.
“I think there will be an honest pace,” said Hess. “I think Page McKenney is the horse to beat. I would like to be in a good stalking position to be able to quicken up late. The hope is that we can have a good solid showing and get ready for a summer campaign on the East Coast.”
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