Blue skies and balmy temperatures greeted a new era at Monmouth Park May 12 when the track opened its 67th season of Thoroughbred racing with increases in attendance and wagering over last year.
This was the first day of racing under the auspices of Darby Development, which manages the racetrack for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. The NJTHA negotiated a five-year lease from the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority to operate Monmouth Park.
“We’ve exceeded all expectations,” said Bob Kulina, president of Darby Development. “Our business is based on handle, and to see ontrack and simulcast increases over last year is a great sign.
“We’ll continue to work hard to bring about the necessary changes here at Monmouth, changes that not only will boost our handle, but enhance the overall racing experience for ontrack and simulcast patrons. Today was a great start to what we hope is a new and bright future for Thoroughbred racing in the Garden State,” Kulina said.
Saturday’s attendance of 12,008 was an increase of nearly 11% over last year, when 10,847 were on hand.
All-sources wagering on Monmouth’s 12-race card hit $4,768,956 a 5.2% gain over 2011, when $4,534829 was bet. The live handle saw an even bigger jump as $764,125 was bet on Saturday, a 9% gain from the $700,796 wagered a year ago.
Saturday was the first of 65 racing days at Monmouth, with the season running through Oct. 7. There will be 10 days of turf racing at the Meadowlands. Two days have already been run there, and the final eight days will be run from Oct. 12 through Nov. 3.
The first feature of the 2012 season was the $75,000 Decathlon Stakes, which was marred by a spill on the far turn involving five of the eight starters. John Koenig’s Ponzi Scheme led the three finishers home, beating Flat Bold by nearly three lengths. Soaring Stocks was third.
All five of the horses involved in the incident came back to the barn uninjured, suffering only superficial cuts and bruises. The riders likewise escaped serious injury. Only one, Angel Serpa, was taken to the Monmouth Medical Center for precautionary X-rays of his right shoulder.
Elvis Trujillo, Monmouth’s leading rider the past two years, got off to a fast start for his third straight crown as he won four races, including the feature. Trujillo took the fourth race on Raro ($6.80), the sixth on Final Forest ($5.40) and the seventh on Busted Again ($6.20).
Trujillo came back in the 10th race to take the Decathlon Stakes aboard Ponzi Scheme, who ran the six furlongs in 1:10 flat over a fast track. The Juan Serey-trained son of Sunday Break paid $27.20, $10.80, and $5 and topped an exacta worth $175.80.
Favored Zero Rate Policy, who was the leader on the backstretch, tripped and fell near the half-mile pole, and Nathan's H Q fell over him. Congressional Page and Bank Merger lost their riders, but kept to their feet. Wildcat Brief returned with jockey Carlos Marquez Jr. aboard after going to the outside fence to escape the spill.