The first day of the Monmouth Park experiment can be considered a success as far as the entry box goes, as 148 horses were entered in 13 races with purses totaling $812,000.
Six of the races May 22 drew alternates. Thirty horses were excluded.
The co-features, both at $100,000, are the Decathlon Stakes for 3-year-olds and up at six furlongs and the Elkwood Stakes for 3-year-old and up at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. The lowest purse on the card is $30,000 for an open $5,000 claimer.
Monmouth will open its 50-day “million-dollar” meet with racing May 22-23 with first post at 12:50 p.m. EDT. After that, racing will be held Friday through Sunday and holidays.
The meet has been called an experiment, but there is a lot on the line. The look of New Jersey racing—and perhaps the region—in the future depends on the results of the Monmouth meet.
Stall space is at a premium this year with maiden special weight events going for $75,000 and entry-level allowance races for $80,000. Three New Jersey-bred races on the opening-day card drew 12 or more horses.
“The number of stall applications this year has reached an all-time high,” Monmouth racing secretary Michael Dempsey said in a statement. “Obviously when you offer this type of money at a summertime resort, you draw interest from all parts of the country.”
Horsemen from California, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania and Canada will race at Monmouth this year.
The California group includes trainers Robert Hess Jr., Michael Machowsky, Mike Mitchell, and Peter Miller; John Servis, based at Philadelphia Park Casino & Racetrack, will have a division at Monmouth; New Yorkers Bill Badgett Jr., Gary Contessa, David Jacobson, Linda Rice, Rick Violette Jr., and Nick Zito will have horses on the grounds; Steve Asmussen, Mike Maker, Wesley Ward, and Ian Wilkes will ship horses from Kentucky; A. Ferris Allen, Mike Richard Small, and Mike Trombetta come in from Maryland, and Steve Klesaris from Delaware; Scott Fairlie, based at Woodbine, will have a presence, as will Patrick Biancone, who wintered in Florida.
Among the jockeys with mounts on opening day are Garrett Gomez and John Velazquez, who usually ride on other major circuits.
Monmouth officials said capital improvements have been made, including a new cushion for the main track and renovation of the turf course; remodeling of the infield; and a flood mediation program for the stable area. There also are more flat-screen televisions and tents for group parties.
The highlight of the meet is the $1 million Izod Haskell Invitational (gr. I) for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles Aug. 1. The race will be broadcast live on ABC from 5-6p.m. EDT.