09/05/2007 12:00AM

Handle and attendance both rise at Monmouth


A solid summer meet has Monmouth Park officials in a positive frame of mind heading toward the Breeders' Cup on Oct. 26 and 27.

"It should provide us with plenty of momentum as we prepare for the Breeders' Cup," said Dennis Dowd, senior vice president of racing for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates the track.

Daily average attendance and all-sources total handle both rose for the 75-day meet that ended Sunday. The average numbers were helped by a shortened season. Monmouth closed early this year to complete Breeders' Cup preparations, eliminating the September dates that generate less business than the summer days.

Total handle on Monmouth races, including wagers made ontrack and at all remote locations, averaged $3,096,869 daily, an increase of 5 percent over last year.

The average attendance was 8,971, up 6 percent.

Business was aided by a meet that unfolded smoothly compared to 2006, when Monmouth operated the first two months without a turf course and suffered cancellations because of a state-government shutdown and poor weather.

On the racing front, Joe Bravo bagged another riding title, his 13th overall and fifth straight. He had 110 winners, 20 more than runner-up Eddie Castro.

Todd Pletcher didn't get another training title at Saratoga, but he topped the Monmouth standings for the first time. Pletcher had 33 winners, including in Monmouth's two Grade 1 races: English Channel in the United Nations Stakes and Any Given Saturday in the Haskell Invitational.

Pletcher edged out Bruce Levine and Jason Servis, who each had 31 wins.

With Monmouth hosting the Breeders' Cup for the first time, the stakes program was strengthened by the presence of prominent horses prepping for the season-ending championships. Among the notables present were the Whitney and Woodward winner Lawyer Ron, who was second to Gottcha Gold in Monmouth's Grade 3 Salvator Mile, and Smokey Stover, one of the nation's top sprinters, who captured the Icecapade Stakes on the closing weekend.