The New Jersey racing industry has taken a beating in recent years, and the announcement that Garden State Park would close May 29 -- at least a half year earlier than expected -- made things worse.
But April 2 marked the opening of the stable area at Monmouth Park, where things are looking up. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority track offers the state's marquee Thoroughbred meet.
Despite competition from tracks in neighboring states, Monmouth received about 2,400 applications for 1,600 stalls, said Bruce Garland, executive vice president of racing for the NJSEA. Deciding who gets the space is the biggest problem facing the track, he said.
Willard Thompson, who won Monmouth training titles from 1975 to 1977, was among the first arrivals with 44 horses. Thompson has been based at Monmouth for 30 years, but racing secretary Sean Greely said there will be some new faces on the backstretch this year.
Legislation that would pump millions of dollars into purse accounts at Monmouth and Meadowlands has passed both houses, and now waits for the signature of Gov. Donald DiFrancesco. There has been talk -- perhaps wishful -- of daily average purses of $275,000 to $300,000 at Monmouth, but the payout hinges on the supplements.
"Obviously, we're being very conservative on (the purse structure at this time)," Garland said.
The track did release its stakes schedule, which is loaded with 66 events to be held during the 72-day season that runs from May 26 to Sept. 2. Seven stakes are slated for Aug. 5, the day of the $1 million Haskell Invitational Handicap, a grade I test for 3-year-olds.
More than half of the stakes are carded for the turf. There are seven events for New Jersey-breds, though plans are in the works for a state-bred stakes day later in the Monmouth meet.