07/04/2004 11:00PM

Arlington Million in question

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Meteor Storm, the major disappointment in the Grade 1 United Nations on Saturday at Monmouth Park, bled during the race.

The winner of the Grade 1 Manhattan in his previous outing, he was never a factor in the U.N. He had a wide trip while racing in midpack and never kicked in with a serious late run. Meteor Storm finished seventh at 2-1, ending a three-race winning streak.

"It's basically the first time he's bled," said assistant trainer Aimee Dollase the morning after the race. "He's never done that before. It was hot and humid, and he's never run on a day like that."

Meteor Storm came out of the race in otherwise good shape.

"He's fine this morning," said Dollase. "His temperature is normal, and he ate up last night. He lives on to fight again."

Wally Dollase, Aimee's father and Meteor Storm's trainer, had listed Grade 1 Arlington Million on Aug. 14 as an objective for Meteor Storm. The trip to Chicago hinges on how well the 5-year-old bounces back.

"We'll take him home to California and see how he looks," said Aimee Dollase. "He's run hard so far this year. This was his sixth race this year."

The U.N. was the first time the Dollases had run a horse at Monmouth.

"It was a great trip," said Dollase. "The hospitality was wonderful. Everything was great, until the race. Unfortunately, it didn't work out."

Compromised by course

The U.N. didn't work out for Megantic either, but his trainer, Norman Pointer, had only one complaint: the condition of the parched turf course.

"I wish the racetrack wasn't so biased," said Pointer. "The horse ran good, but nobody was making up any ground. Megantic is a come-from-behind horse, and we didn't have an opportunity."

Megantic turned in the best performance among the local horses. The winner of Monmouth's Battlefield Stakes rallied six wide entering the lane and closed well to get fourth.

"I was satisfied," said Pointer. "He tried. He ran big."

Pointer had no immediate plans for Megantic.

"I'm letting him dry out for a little while," he said.

Some stakes purses raised

The stakes got juicier for the Haskell undercard and the New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival.

The four overnight stakes on Haskell Day, Aug. 8 - the Teddy Drone, the Lady's Secret Stakes, the Regret Stakes, and the Ocean Place Resort Stakes - were each increased from $85,000 to $100,000.

The same increase applies to the New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival on Sunday, Aug. 29, which is an all-statebred card. The original schedule called for three stakes races - the Colts Neck Handicap, Jersey Breeders' Turf Highweight, and Eleven North Handicap - for which purses have been raised from $85,000 to $100,000. Two more stakes have been added to the card, the $100,000 Jersey Girl Stakes and the $75,000 Pappa Riccio Stakes.

Backstretch picnic time

Danny Perlsweig launched the first Monmouth Backstretch Appreciation Day Picnic Day 12 years ago as a tribute to groom Charlie Butler.

For 30 years, Butler meticulously tended Perlsweig's top horses, including Lord Avie, the champion 2-year-old of 1980.

Perlsweig wanted to give something back to all backstretch workers, whose unheralded labor is integral to the sport.

"The people who take care of the horses don't get as much recognition as they should for the job they do," said Perlsweig.

The annual nonprofit, all-volunteer event returns to Monmouth's picnic area on Monday from noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday, July 13, is reserved as the rain date.

Over the years, the picnic has grown into a major event attended by 1,500 backstretch workers and their families. In addition to food and drink, the picnic features Jack Russell races and games for kids and adults.

Perlsweig, who paid for the first picnic out of his own pocket, has seen the event grow to a point where a large roster of sponsors contribute food, drinks, and prizes.

The Monmouth picnic proved so popular that Perlsweig now stages a similar event at Gulfstream Park.

Perlsweig, who retired from training four years ago, has one wish for future picnics.

"Keep the sponsors coming," said Perlsweig. "We need the support."