Garden State
Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt
Dan Liebman
Executive Editor

Although the site of the 2008 Breeders’ Cup World Championships remains a mystery, the 2007 host site, Monmouth Park, is busy solving problems before the big event in October.

New Jersey’s Monmouth Park was formally announced as the host site in the fall of 2004, and from the look of the plant in mid-March, the first-time site will be ready to take racing’s center stage, though much still remains to be done. Work will continue during the track’s regular May 12-Sept. 2 meet, then pick up pace for the Oct. 24-27 Breeders’ Cup meeting.

As Bob Kulina gave a guided tour March 21, his steps took him over the same ground he had walked upon many times before. Kulina is now the vice president and general manager of Monmouth, but he fondly remembers his days in the racing office, and that understanding of horsemen and their needs has served the track well as it enters the final stages of preparation.

Keeping the saddling enclosure and walking ring safe for the horses, fixing up the barn area, and overseeing the installion of a new turf course (done in 2006) and dirt track (being done now) are foremost among Kulina’s concerns. While Kulina understands clearly the changes that must be made to host such an event, he also sees beyond that day, when the bright lights have dimmed and the track must continue to cling to its well-developed niche as a summertime destination on the Jersey Shore.

The track needed refurbishing, and because of its hosting the Breeders’ Cup, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns the track, is spending millions on improvements that should ensure the track’s ability to compete for decades to come.

Monmouth can handle a large crowd, its annual marquee event, the Haskell Invitational (gr. I), reached a record mass of 53,638 in 2003. The difference is Haskell day features general admission, with most of those in attendance not in the track’s approximately 13,000 full-time seats or in one of the various dining rooms. This year, only 5,000 Breeders’ Cup general admission patrons will be allowed, and those will be pre-sold. The apron level will be filled with makeshift boxes, and temporary seating will be placed down the stretch and around the clubhouse turn. Kulina is hoping for a crowd of about 47,000.

Many racing fans will be unhappy, as they were at previous Breeders’ Cup sites with a limited-attendance policy, but being an old track not built to facilitate a larger crowd, Monmouth would be unable to comfortably handle more patrons. Lessons learned at other sites clearly point out customer service must be the first order of business, regardless of crowd size.

The good news is Monmouth will run stakes on all four days, and for the first time, Breeders’ Cup races will also be run on Friday (the organization added three new races this year). There will be unlimited general admission Oct. 26, and officials hope many fans shut out the following day will attend on that Friday; they are optimistically hoping for 30,000.

The big unknown, of course, is the weather, but an event that has been held the same time of year in New York, Chicago, Kentucky, and Toronto is not afraid to take a risk on odds with Mother Nature.

Monmouth will be the first Mid-Atlantic racing site to host the event, which certainly has been supported over the years by its owners, breeders, trainers, and jockeys, not to mention racing fans. Though it may be an inconvenience to some, it is a welcome change to the shrinking number of tracks able to host the event.

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