06/02/2005 12:00AM

Desirable Moment starts comeback


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer Tim Hills faced a critical decision last fall with Desirable Moment: try to correct a persistent breathing problem or retire her to the broodmare ranks.

Hills said he knew all along which way he was leaning.

Desirable Moment launches her comeback Saturday at Monmouth Park in the $55,000 Candy Eclair Stakes for fillies and mares at five furlongs on the grass.

"She is real sound," Hills said. "And she's real fast."

Getting Desirable Moment back to this point was a long process over the winter. She needed two laser surgeries and a long regimen of throat sprays to bring her back to the races.

The effort was worth undertaking for a horse who has won 8 of 19 starts and owns a record of 3-1-0 in six starts at five furlongs on the turf, including a win in the Jenny Wade Handicap at Penn National last August.

This will be Desirable Moment's first start since Sept. 15.

"She's trained extremely well," Hills said. "She runs as hard as she can for as long as she can."

Hills said she will run in this spot "rain or shine."

Desirable Moment faces a solid field with strong stakes credentials.

Owner Michael Gill sends out an entry of Ambition Unbridled and Clay's Rocket. Ambition Unbridled loves turf sprints, as she showed when she won last year's Candy Eclair with a strong front-running effort. She has trouble with soft footing, but give her a firm course and she is tough to beat.

Kiss Me Katie is a five-furlong grass specialist. She captured the Witches' Brew at The Meadowlands in October and most recently ran fourth in The Very One.

Tap Day still waiting for breakthrough

It is hard to call Tap Day a disappointment. He has won 9 of 18 starts and turned in a dazzling effort on May 29 to win the Frisk Me Now Stakes at Monmouth Park by 9 1/4 lengths.

Yet, he has been unable to break out of the small stakes and allowance races to score a graded-stakes win. His most recent graded attempt resulted in a fifth in the Grade 3 Skip Away Handicap at Gulfstream Park on April 2, a race in which he checked and steadied in the early stages.

"He runs well in a spot like the Frisk Me Now, so what do you do with a horse like that?" said assistant trainer Robby Rader, who oversees Mark Hennig's Monmouth division. "Do you attempt a bigger stakes and try to help him win a Grade 3? Thank goodness, he's got spots like this where he can go. If he stayed at this level, he'd perform more consistently."

Tap Day took his biggest swing last summer in Monmouth's Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational. He was never a factor, finishing 17 1/2 lengths behind Lion Heart.

Rader said he sees some subtle changes that suggest Tap Day might be ready to step up. "Late last year and this year, he's become more consistent," Rader said.

The win in the Frisk Me Now was the fourth in the last six outings for Tap Day.

Fortunately for Tap Day, the barn will not rush him to the next level. Hennig is already well stocked with handicap runners in Eddington and Gygistar. "We don't need to force this horse into anything," Rader said.

Although Tap Day's next target has not been set, Rader said Monmouth's $70,000 Skip Away Stakes on July 2 is a possibility, along with the Grade 3, $150,000 Salvator Mile on July 24.

Early figures indicate solid start

Monmouth ran seven cards in May, four more than usual. The track traditionally kicked off the season on the Memorial Day weekend, but this year, Monmouth experimented by adding two early weekends, on May 14-15 and May 21-22. The overall results were positive, creating a model that could become the standard Monmouth schedule.

"I think from now on, opening day will be the weekend after the [Kentucky] Derby," said vice president and general manager Bob Kulina. "That's what we plan to do in the future. I thought it was a real solid month of May."

The seven May dates attracted 89,703 fans, an average of 12,815 as day. The only major negative was the drop in attendance on Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend, when the attendance was 16,504. Last year, the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend drew 21,869.

"Saturday of Memorial Day weekend last year was bigger, because that was opening day." Kulina said. "What we got the other four days more than compensated for that."

Next year could bring a change in the stakes lineup for Memorial Day weekend after the track fought a tough battle against wet weather this year.

Monmouth rolled out three turf stakes over the holiday weekend: the Grade 3 Red Bank Handicap on Saturday, the Grade 3 Boiling Springs on Sunday, and the Jersey Derby on Monday. The Red Bank remained on a soft course, the Boiling Springs was shifted to the main track, and the Jersey Derby was run over a good course.

A complicating factor for next year is the installation of a new turf course this fall. An exact opening date for the course next spring has not been determined.

"We'll probably do some shifting with some of these races next year," Kulina said.

Monmouth now settles into its standard schedule through Labor Day. The track will run Wednesday through Sunday with first post at 1:15 p.m. Monmouth will have special holiday cards on July 4th and Labor Day.