08/10/2004 12:00AM

Cup prep begins now


OCEANPORT, N.J. - This past weekend's announcement of the memorandum of agreement to bring the 2007 Breeders' Cup to Monmouth Park culminated a decade of pitches and presentations by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.

With the Breeders' Cup headed to New Jersey, now comes another hard part: getting Monmouth ready to host Thoroughbred racing's season-ending championships.

"Now the real work begins," said Bob Kulina, the track's vice president.

Monmouth opened in 1946 and has aged gracefully since. However, the track will need some major renovations to raise it to Breeders' Cup standards.

"We're going to need to make a lot of capital improvements," Kulina said. "We are going to go ahead and do things that, in my estimation, will ensure that this facility will be here for a long time to come."

The turf course poses one of the biggest challenges. The entire course will be replaced to correct a drainage problem. There is a clay base under portions of the backstretch that retains excessive moisture. It creates an imbalance following rainfall where the front side dries while the backstretch remains soggy.

Replacement of the course is a major undertaking, and it could limit the turf opportunities for local horsemen in the 2006 and 2007 seasons.

There is also much to be done in the barn areas and the grandstand.

"We'll spend quite a bit of money in the stable area as far as getting ready for the foreign horses with quarantine and isolation facilities," said Kulina.

"On the front side, Monmouth is full of nooks and crannies and rooms that are hardly used, and they will all be used on Breeders' Cup week. We will have to fix them up with televisions and betting lines. We have to renovate the press box.

"There are a lot of operational things that will be done. I would like to get a lot of these things done well before the Breeders' Cup."

Honorable Cat tough if she repeats

Honorable Cat ran her career-best race last time, setting all the pace in Monmouth's Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap on the turf. She ended up second behind Ocean Drive, and earned a career-high 93 Beyer Speed Figure.

A repeat of that effort would make her hard to catch in Thursday's feature, a $41,000 allowance for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

Eddie King Jr. has the return call for trainer Chuck Simon.

The 3-year-old Dancing Colors figures to be one of Honorable Cat's top challengers. After starting her career in her native Ireland, Dancing Colors has shown improving Beyers in her two U.S. starts for trainer Christophe Clement.

She rallied strongly to win her Monmouth debut and earn a 77 Beyer. She got boxed in during her last race, the Rhudy Memorial at Delaware Park, and finished third, earning an 82 Beyer.

Leading jockey Joe Bravo will ride.