08/31/2002 12:00AM

Fun, fun, fun on America's big day

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CINCINNATI - This Monday will be different than virtually all other Mondays at racetracks throughout the U.S., and not just because the Labor Day holiday will entice large crowds to come out and play.

This is the sixth year that participating racetracks will host America's Day at the Races, a good-will promotion that lends a dramatically different feel to a day of racing. Sponsored by the National Thoroughbred Racing Association and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders' Association, America's Day entails a wide variety of activities and giveaways.

At Del Mar, for example, jockeys will participate in a T-shirt toss, and children will be invited to take part in a Hippity Hop Derby on the racetrack. At other tracks, there will be merchandise giveaways, an owner for a day program, pony rides, and other activities. Since TOBA began America's Day in 1997, the promotion has blossomed into an event many families have made into a tradition. The NTRA has billed it as a "national holiday for horse lovers."

For more serious racing fans, the main attraction Monday is the America's Day pick three, a $1 minimum wager that ties together major races at three participating tracks. The bet closes at about 5:30 p.m. Eastern, when the horses leave the gate in the Cradle Stakes at River Downs, which serves as the hub for the wager. The following two races are the Matron from Arlington Park and the Solana Beach Handicap from Del Mar. Takeout is 22 percent, the standard for exotic bets at River.

A percentage of the pick three handle and some admissions proceeds will be donated to the Disabled Jockeys Endowment, the charitable arm of The Jockeys' Guild. The day represents one of the most productive fund-raisers each year for the guild.

Besides the tracks hosting races in the America's Day pick three, the other participating tracks are Bay Meadows, Calder, Cal Expo, Canterbury, Emerald, Hoosier, The Meadowlands, Mountaineer, and Prairie Meadows.