09/05/2008 12:00AM

Atwell looks good off Jersey Derby finish

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - The Sunday stakes at Monmouth Park features 3-year-olds on the turf. None is named Big Brown.

The Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Haskell Invitational winner remains on target to run here next Saturday in the inaugural $500,000 Monmouth Stakes on grass.

The stakes are lower Sunday in the $65,000 Restoration Stakes at 1 1/16 miles.

Atwell ran very well last time, losing by a head in his stakes debut: the Jersey Derby on the Haskell Day undercard.

"I thought he was going to win at the eighth pole," said Rob Rader, assistant to trainer Mark Hennig.

Meal Penalty, fourth in the Jersey Derby, looks to bounce back to the form that carried him to two stakes wins at Arlington Park, the Shecky Greene and the Arlington Classic.

In addition to Meal Penalty, trainer Todd Pletcher also sends out Ready's Image. They are uncoupled in the wagering.

Handle down - and up

Two divergent business trends developed at Monmouth as the meet heads into the final month of the season.

Through Aug. 31, ontrack handle was down 21 percent compared to last year - averaging $467,979 a day this meet, a drop of $130,617 per day.

In contrast, total handle on Monmouth from all sources was up 20 percent, an increase of $497,950 a day to an average of $2,982,310.

Part of the shift is a reallocation of money. There are two newly opened off-track betting parlors within a 30-mile radius of Monmouth. Some money formerly bet at Monmouth is now wagered at the Woodbridge and Toms River, N.J., facilities.

That accounts for some, but not all of the increase.

"We feel many factors contribute to this," said Bill Knauf, Monmouth's assistant general manager. "We've now had two years of excellent TVG coverage, a positive carryover from last year's Breeders' Cup, and situations at other tracks such as the very rainy start of the Saratoga meet."

* Merle Alston, who held many jobs, including jockey agent, during a lengthy career at Monmouth and the Meadowlands Racetrack, died Wednesday night. A service will be held Tuesday at the Second Baptist Church in Long Branch, N.J., starting at 11 a.m.