08/04/2008 12:00AM

Big Brown, weather help fuel record day

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - A picture-perfect day with remarkably low humidity for summertime on the Jersey Shore, the traditional cap giveaway, and the lure of Big Brown in the Haskell Invitational produced a stellar Sunday afternoon at Monmouth Park.

Haskell Day attracted 45,132 fans, the best turnout in four years for the meet's premier event.

The total handle was a record $17,642,954, the highest for a non-Breeders' Cup card at Monmouth. It blew away the old mark of $14.1 million on last year's Haskell Day.

Handle on the Haskell alone also was a record $4,257,409, topping the $3.7 million wagered on the race last year.

"Everything was perfect," said Dennis Dowd, senior vice president of racing for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. "Not only did we get to see another great Haskell, but finally the weather was on our side. The Haskell capped off a great weekend of racing for the state of New Jersey."

Haskell Day followed Hambletonian Day, which drew more than 25,000 at the Meadowlands on Saturday. The cross-breed daily double linking the two 3-year-old stars - the undefeated Deweycheatumnhowe in the Hambletonian and Big Brown - returned $3.60.

Claim still paying off for Dibona

Cuba is a claim that keeps on giving for trainer Bobby Dibona.

Snared for $18,000 over the winter at Gulfstream Park, the 7-year-old is 5-1-1 in 7 starts since then, including a win in the $100,000 Charles Hesse III Handicap for New Jersey-breds on the Haskell Day undercard.

Dibona calls Cuba "definitely the best claim I ever made."

Cuba fit two criteria for Dibona: He was a New Jersey-bred and he had been running poorly on the synthetic track at Woodbine.

"We've had a lot of success pulling horses back from the Polytrack to the main track," Dibona said. "He's been a different animal since he's been back on the main track. He's so professional. He just goes out and does whatever you ask. So far, each and every race has been more impressive than the one before."

Looking down the road, Dibona has circled the $60,000 Jersey Breeders' Handicap against statebreds at Monmouth on Sept. 20. In the interim, he will look for a starter allowance race at the end of the Saratoga meet, if the weight assignment is not prohibitive.

Presious Passion to Sword Dancer

Presious Passion escaped tight quarters unscathed in the Grade 3 Oceanport Stakes on Haskell Day and remains on target for the Gradeo1 Sword Dancer at 1 1/2 miles on the turf at Saratoga on Aug. 16.

Trainer Mary Hartmann was using the Oceanport as a prep following Presious Passion's upset win in Monmouth's Grade 1 United Nations Stakes at 1 3/8 miles, a Breeders' Cup Challenge Win and You're In victory that secured a berth in the Breeders' Cup Turf.

The Oceanport, at 1 1/16 miles, was a bit too short, and the trip was a bit too rough as Presious Passion finished sixth.

"He got caught up in traffic, and down the lane, a horse bumped into him and knocked him off stride," Hartmann said. "I think he got a lot out of the race and I got very lucky he did not get injured. It wasn't a pretty trip."

It was a much better Oceanport experience for Hotstufanthensome, the 8-year-old campaigner claimed by Terri Pompay over the winter, who finished third, only a neck and a head away from the victory behind Silver Tree.

"We felt he was going to run terrific because he was training great," Pompay said. "He's just a tough old horse. Turning for home, I thought we were going to win it, but he got outkicked. He ran his guts out. He always tries."