06/01/2004 11:00PM

Business booms on holiday weekend


OCEANPORT, N.J. - All the elements fell into place for a strong opening weekend at Monmouth Park.

The weather, with the exception of a rainy Monday, was spectacular. Saturday and Sunday were both picture perfect. The two days featured abundant sunshine but the temperatures rose only into the low 70's: too cool for the beach here at the Jersey Shore; ideal for the racetrack.

The racing purses, enhanced by a four-year, $86 million supplement from the state's casinos, drew large and competitive fields.

And the fans, denied live racing since last September, came pouring in.

Monmouth drew 21,869 for Saturday's opener, a huge increase over the rain-dampened 12,167 for the 2003 opener. Sunday was strong as well with 18,104 on hand. Even soggy Monday was not a business washout as 13,304 turned out to push the weekend total to 53,277.

It was an extremely encouraging start to a meet that runs through Sept. 26.

"It was a great weekend," said Bob Kulina, vice president of Thoroughbred racing. "It was everything we expected. We expected to have good crowds. We expected the racing to be good. It's a good way to set the stage for the year."

Jason Servis supports his brother

The cell phone rings frequently every morning for Jason Servis as he tends his horses at Monmouth. More often than not, it's brother John, the trainer of Triple Crown candidate Smarty Jones, calling from Philadelphia Park.

"We talk all the time," said Jason Servis. "We talk constantly, sharing information."

They'll have a face-to-face meeting this weekend as Jason Servis heads to Belmont to stand by his brother in the quest for Triple Crown immortality.

"The good Lord willing, I'll be there," said Jason. "It would take something really bad to keep me away."

Servis was in Louisville, Ky., for the Kentucky Derby and Baltimore for the Preakness Stakes. He says that his brother has held up well under the Triple Crown stress.

"He's doing good," said Servis. "He was sick Preakness weekend with the flu, but I think he's enjoying it."

It's hard not to get caught up in the moment.

"The adrenaline is unbelievable," said Servis. "I'll be relaxing at home and a reporter will call me to talk about this. Ten minutes later, I'll be so pumped up again."

Some of the best moments in this Triple Crown experience have come away from the racetrack.

"The Derby was unbelievable," said Servis. "My wife grabbed a handful of roses from the winner's circle and we brought them home. Monday morning, it's 4:30 and I'm sitting there having my coffee before heading to the barn. She's got the roses in a vase on the kitchen table, and it was unbelievable. I just couldn't believe my brother won a Kentucky Derby."

Elliott off to good start

Stewart Elliott, the jockey of Smarty Jones, got a warm reception on his return to Monmouth Park.

Elliott and agent Ray Lopez decided to shift from Philadelphia Park to Monmouth for the summer. The decision came before Smarty Jones began his Triple Crown quest.

Elliott picked right up where he left off the last time he rode here, in 1999, when he finished second in the Monmouth standings.

Elliott won three races Sunday, and Lopez is having no trouble drumming up Monmouth business.

"The reception has been good," said Lopez. "I notified people well in advance, and everyone was positive about our move to come back here."

The exposure of the Triple Crown has made Lopez's job easier.

"When you call out-of-town outfits, like [Bill] Mott and [Bobby} Frankel, and you say Stewart Elliott, they know exactly who you are talking about," said Lopez. "Even though he's won plenty of races in the past, now we can go past the perimeter and make the phone calls without worrying about them saying 'Who?' "

Burning Roma to stay on turf

Trainer Heather Giglio plans to keep Burning Roma on the turf for the balance of this year, the final campaign before the 6-year-old multiple graded stakes winner heads off to retirement.

He will stand at Nelson Jones Farm and Training Center in Ocala, Fla.

Burning Roma has won stakes on turf and dirt. On Saturday, in the opening-day feature, he won the Grade 3, Red Bank Handicap on the turf.

Every win is a bonus following a frustrating 2003 campaign during which Giglio almost retired the horse.

"I had considered it, but what I did was go over this horse from head to toe," said Giglio. "The vet said he was remarkably sound. We decided to go on with him."

Giglio is considering Monmouth's Grade 3, $100,000 Oceanport Handicap on Aug. 8 for Burning Roma's next start.

Poetic Romance in allowance feature

Racing resumes Friday after a three-day break with a $43,000 filly and mare turf allowance the featured the event.

Trainer Norman Pointer thinks Poetic Romance has turned the corner.

She broke her maiden at The Meadowlands last fall and followed up with consecutive wins at Calder. A bleeding problem compromised her over the winter at Gulfstream Park.

"She's skinny and she bleeds," said Pointer. "But I think she's coming around and the bleeding is under control."

Maybe Jack still winning

Maybe Jack, a grand old gelding, keeps on rolling.

The 11-year-old won the second race Monday for his 35th win in 117 career starts.

"He's a tough old guy that loves to do his job," said trainer Eddie Broome. "This will probably be his final year. We've already got a home set up for him."