After putting in a year and a half to get Heza Kitten back to racing health, the payoff came Friday night for trainer Mary Eppler.
Heza Kitten rallied from off the pace to win his first race since Sept.14, 2019, surging to a three-quarters of a length victory in a conditioned $25,000 claimer on opening night of the Monmouth at Meadowlands all-turf meet.
A 6-year-old gelded son of Kitten's Joy, Heza Kitten was idle for 19 months following a suspensory injury before returning to the races on June 21.
"We were patient and gave him the time off and brought him back when he showed he was ready," said Eppler. "It's really rewarding to see him win again and to bring one back like this."
Winning time for the mile and a sixteenth over a firm turf course was 1:42.05. Thomond Park was second, five lengths ahead of Lion Charmer in the seven-horse field.
Owned by Flying Pheasant Farm and ridden by Mychel Sanchez, Heza Kitten posted his fourth win from 25 career starts, all on the grass. He had been 0-for-4 this year, though he hinted at being back in form by rallying for third in his last start at a mile at Monmouth Park on Sept. 19.
Heza Kitten returned $9.40 to win.
All-turf racing at the Meadowlands resumes Saturday night with a six-race card. First race post time is 7 p.m.