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Fresh turf and new dirt for the '05 meet
With the absence of turf racing at Monmouth Park in September, many trainers have eagerly awaited the opening of The Meadowlands this Friday. Not only will trainers be able to race on the grass again, but all horsemen will be greeted with a new main-track surface.
The turf course at Monmouth was slated for replacement after Labor Day, one of the major renovations for the 2007 Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships, but unusually hot and humid weather burned the course and limited grass racing from August through early September. The absence of a significant turf schedule was a predominant factor in the decline in field size and handle at Monmouth.
Many trainers had to adjust the campaigns of their turf horses in order to fill the gap in September. They are now looking forward to a fresh turf course at The Meadowlands.
"I ran a few turf horses out of town, at Philly, New York, or Delaware, but with shipping, it was less than ideal," said trainer Tim Hills, who started 33 horses on the turf at Monmouth, the most by any trainer. "I just had to wait with most of them."
Some trainers took their chances running turf horses on the dirt instead, while most trainers simply decided to wait until The Meadowlands opened.
"You had to adjust a little bit," trainer Greg Sacco said. "We've run some turf horses on dirt. Some ran well and some didn't. I held back on some horses and took it easy with them. But there was no reason to complain about not having turf racing in September. The new turf course will only be beneficial to us in the future."
Because of the renewed turf schedule in New Jersey, racing officials expect turf races at The Meadowlands to garner large fields. For example, the $60,000 Navajo Princess Stakes on turf opening night was split into two divisions, 10 in one and 11 in another, because of an overflow of entries.
"We will card as many as we can, weather permitting," said Mike Dempsey, racing secretary for Monmouth and The Meadowlands. "The turf course is good and there's a new main track. Hopefully the horsemen will be pleased with both surfaces."
The new surface for the main track was finished Sept. 13. More than 11,000 tons of material were used to create the sand, loam, and clay racing surface on the one-mile oval.
"The biggest problem that presented itself was that the two track materials were mixing, the harness track and the Thoroughbred track," said John Chevalier, director of properties at The Meadowlands. "It was stinging the jockeys when they raced over it. It just wasn't a good thing. The material had been about five years old, and so we made a commitment to replace it this year. It will definitely be safer and give the horses a nice cushion and pad underneath."
The new surface is expected to keep the track free of stones and excess traprock, a problem that arose last year and led track management to make the decision to redo the surface.
For the third consecutive year, horses will continue to be stabled at Monmouth Park and ship to The Meadowlands on race day. The barn area at Monmouth will be open until about two weeks after the conclusion of The Meadowlands meet on Nov. 12.
Bob Kulina, vice president and general manager of Monmouth, said this arrangement has proved successful so far.
"The only problem it presents for us is the continuous wear and tear on a 60-year-old facility" Kulina said of Monmouth. "The only downtime to make renovations is the dead of winter.
Kulina said that because the Monmouth stable area is open from April through Thanksgiving, "the overall effect is going to allow us to convince more horsemen to come to New Jersey. We're finding a niche for our horsemen. Long-term it's good for everybody."
Several horsemen agreed that being able to stable at Monmouth and ship to The Meadowlands has been helpful.
"It's a lot less hardship on our help to not have to pick up and move for a short meet," Hills said. "You can adapt to late nights, but Labor Day to New Year's Eve was brutal."
The racing office will continue to operate at Monmouth, taking entries for The Meadowlands. Certain officials, such as placing and paddock judges, will have to travel to The Meadowlands for live racing from Tuesday to Saturday in October and Wednesday to Saturday in November.
"It puts wear and tear on the officials," Kulina said. "But you need to take entries in person, where the horses are. This is the only logical thing to do."
Navajo Princess in two divisions
Two additional stakes - the $60,000 Navajo Princess and $60,000 Eillo Stakes - join the Grade 3 Pegasus on the opening night card.
The Navajo Princess, for fillies and mares at 1 1/16 miles on turf, drew 21 total entries and was split into two divisions. New Jersey-bred Smart N Classy, trained by John Tammaro, leads a 10-horse field in the first division, which will be run as the seventh race. She won the Grade 3 Eatontown Handicap at Monmouth on July 3 and missed by a half-length in her last two stakes tries at Monmouth.
In the second division, carded as the ninth race, Monmouth's leading trainer, Kelly Breen, sends out Diavla, who finished third in the Grade 3 Arlington Matron Handicap last out. Movie Star, a Group 1 winner in Brazil, makes her U.S. debut for trainer Bobby Frankel.
Abbondanza leads a seven-horse field in the Eillo Stakes. He finished 11th in the Breeders' Cup Sprint last year, but has found smaller stakes races more to his liking this year.
At a glance: The Meadowlands
RACING SCHEDULE: 130 days; Friday through Nov. 12; dark Mondays and Sundays in October, and also dark Tuesdays in November
POST TIME: 7:30 p.m. Eastern on Wednesdays through Saturdays; 1:10 p.m. on Tuesdays
ADMISSIONS: Grandstand and Paddock, $1; Clubhouse, $3
PARKING: General, free; Valet, $5
LOCATION: Meadowlands Sports Complex, East Rutherford, N.J..; arrive by NJ Turnpike Exit 16W or Route 3 West
PHONE: (201) THE-BIGM
2005 stakes schedule
|Fri.,Sept. 30||Navajo Princess Stakes||F&M, 3YO & Up||1 1/16 miles (T)||$60,000|
|Fri.,Sept. 30||Eillo Stakes||3YO & Up||6 furlongs||60,000|
|Fri.,Sept. 30||Pegasus Stakes (G3)||3YO||1 1/8 miles||250,000|
|Fri.,Sept. 30||World Appeal Stakes||2YO||1 mile, 70 yds (T)||50,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 1||Salem County Stakes||2YO F||1 mile, 70 yds (T)||50,000|
|Fri.,Oct. 7||Long Look Stakes||F&M, 3YO & Up||1 1/8 miles||60,000|
|Fri.,Oct. 7||Phoenix Stakes||F&M, 3YO & Up||5 furlongs (T)||50,000|
|Fri.,Oct. 7||Bill Wheeler Handicap3||YO & Up*||1 mile, 70 yards||55,000|
|Fri.,Oct. 7||Meadowlands B.C. Stakes (G2)||3YO & Up||1 1/8 miles||500,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 8||Ready Jet Go||F&M, 3YO & Up||6 furlongs||60,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 8||Queen Lib Handicap||F&M, 3YO & Up*||6 furlongs||55,000|
|Fri.,Oct. 14||Cliff Hanger Stakes (G3)||3YO & Up||1 1/16 miles (T)||150,000|
|Fri.,Oct. 14||Paterson Stakes||3YO||1 1/16 miles (T)||55,000|
|Fri.,Oct. 14||Comet Stakes||2YO||6 furlongs||50,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 15||King Bold Reality Stakes||3YO & Up||5 furlongs (T)||50,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 15||Miss Liberty Stakes||3YO F||1 mile, 70 yds (T)||55,000|
|Fri.,Oct. 21||Violet Handicap (G3)||F&M, 3YO & Up||1 1/16 miles (T)||150,000|
|Fri.,Oc.t 21||Bergen County Stakes||3YO||5 furlongs (T)||50,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 22||P.G. Johnson Stakes||3YO F||5 furlongs (T)||50,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 22||Holly Stakes||2YO F||6 furlongs||50,000|
|Fri.,Oct. 28||Alysheba Stakes||3YO & Up||1 1/16 miles||60,000|
|Fri.,Oct. 28||John Henry Stakes||3YO & Up||1 3/8 miles (T)||60,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 29||Witches' Brew Stakes||F&M, 3YO & Up||5 furlongs (T)||50,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 29||Grey Ghost Starter Handicap||3YO & Up||1 1/16 miles (T)||35,000|
|Sat.,Oct. 29||Accordant Handicap||3YO & Up*||6 furlongs||55,000|
|Fri.,Nov. 4||Thomas Edison Stakes||3YO & Up||5 furlongs (T)||50,000|
|Fri.,Nov. 4||New Jersey Futurity||2YO*||6 furlongs||50,000|
|Sat.,Nov. 5||Honey Bee||F&M, 3YO & Up||1 1/16 miles||60,000|
|Sat.,Nov. 5||Storm Cat||2YO||1 1/16 miles||50,000|
|Sat.,Nov. 11||Montclair State University S.||F&M, 3YO & Up||6 furlongs||60,000|
|Fri.,Nov. 11||Princeton Stakes||3YO||1 1/16 miles||55,000|
|Sat.,Nov. 12||Rutgers University Stakes||3YO & Up||6 furlongs||60,000|
|Sat.,Nov. 12||Seton Hall||3YO F||6 furlongs||55,000|