05/22/2010 12:00AM

Attendance, handle soar at Monmouth opener

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - The buzz building for the 50-day, $50 million meet at Monmouth Park turned into a thunderous roar as opening day exceeded all expectations.

Monmouth lured 17,903 fans on Saturday, blowing away last year's opening-day turnout of 10,292. And they brought their wallets. The combined handle from all sources was $9,357,444, trouncing last year's $4,279,438. It was the highest handle in Monmouth history other than Haskell Day or during the Breeders' Cup weekend in 2007.

By any standard, the day was a huge success.

"I'm thrilled," said Dennis Robinson, the president and chief executive officer of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority that owns Monmouth and the Meadowlands. "It sends a great message to the rest of the racing industry."

Robinson hopes to push the bar even higher.

"I'm hoping to build on this," he said. "I think the betting handle is indicative of what we can expect going forward. It was important that we got off to a good start."

The 50-cent pick five with a 15 percent takeout will certainly be off to a strong start Sunday. It was not hit Saturday, with the four-of-five consolation returning $5,468.

The carryover into Sunday will be $123,029.

Politicians love a crowd, and Monmouth was the place to be on a cool, overcast afternoon. New Jersey governor Chris Christie appeared in the winner's circle after the fourth race to sign the legislation that made the $1 million a day season possible.

An enthusiastic crowd hugged the fence from the clubhouse and grandstand all the way through the picnic area up the far turn as the horses entered the gate for the first race. A roar went up as Dream Waltz bounded home the winner of the meet's first race, a New Jersey-bred maiden claimer.

One of the goals of new meet was to make the product more competitive with larger fields, and correspondingly higher payoffs.

It certainly worked in the opening race as 12 went to the post and the winner paid $20.40, keying a 12-10-8-9 superfecta worth $1,737.42 for a 10-cent investment.

"With the larger fields, we're able to offer value," said Bob Kulina, Monmouth's vice president and general manager. "That's what the players want."

It was a sweet return to Monmouth for Congressional Page as he took the $94,500 Decathlon, the first stakes of the meet.

A 5-year-old gelding, he is a perfect 3 for 3 at Monmouth, having won a pair of allowance races here last fall for trainer Michael Trombetta.

Carlos Marquez, Jr. let Congressional Page settle behind the quick pace set by Mr. Fantasy and Go Go Shoot.

It appeared he had too much ground to make up until Marquez angled him to the far outside for the stretch run. He surged past Mr. Fantasy for a three-quarter-length victory.

"Everything set up perfectly," Marquez said. "When he has a target in front of him, he kicks in."

Trombetta had his doubts, until well into the stretch.

"I didn't think he'd have enough time to get up," Trombetta said. "He's been a horse that's been chasing some really good horses all winter."

Congressional Page ($6.60) got his first win in five starts this year, running the six furlongs in 1:09.55.

In the $93,000 Elkwood Stakes on the turf, Get Stormy extended his winning streak to five with a front-running victory with Eddie Castro aboard for the injured Garrett Gomez.

Get Stormy ($8) ran the 1 1/16 miles in 1:40.04.

Roman Tiger finished second but was disqualified for stretch interference and placed fourth.

In the revised placing, Kiss the Kid got second money with Pleasant Strike third.

Gomez escaped serious injury when Jadal stumbled out of the gate in the seventh race, dumping the rider who fell hard to the track and was clipped in the head by the riderless colt.

The ambulance team rushed to assist Gomez who was laying the in the shadow of the finish for the one mile, 70 yard race. He was quickly removed on a stretcher and taken to the track's medical station.

Gomez was alert, complaining of pain in the left elbow. He was taken to Jersey Shore Hospital for precautionary X-rays and was later released.

Gomez planned to resume riding on Sunday.

Marquez was taken to the same hospital after Back Pocket Money dumped him during the post parade for the eighth race.

It was initially feared he had a pelvic fracture. The X-rays were negative and Marquez was scheduled to be released Saturday night.

Joe Burdo, his agent, said Marquez was sore and would probably not ride Sunday.