07/14/2003 12:00AM

Horsemen to decide whether to cut race days

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - New Jersey's Thoroughbred horsemen get the opportunity Wednesday evening to decide the burning question on the Monmouth Park backstretch: Should there be a reduction in racing dates at Monmouth and The Meadowlands Racetrack in the fall?

The New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association called a board meeting for Wednesday at 5 p.m. in the library in Monmouth's administration building. All NJTHA members are welcome to attend.

The decision over the dates centers on purse money. The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, which owns Monmouth and The Meadowlands, has guaranteed daily purses of $300,000 per day for the traditional "core" Monmouth meet, from Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day.

Monmouth will extend its season this year to Sept. 28. Based on current NJSEA projections, a five-day schedule at Monmouth into September would force a purse reduction to $150,000 per day for that period.

A similar purse crunch exists for The Meadowlands meet, which runs Oct 1. to Nov. 8.

One solution under discussion between the horsemen and the authority is a reduction in the schedule to prop up purses. The proposal would trim Monmouth's September schedule to three days a week (Friday through Sunday) instead of five and would reduce The Meadowlands's schedule by one day a week to four.

The reductions would sustain the Monmouth September purses in the current range and set the Meadowlands purses at $200,000 per night.

The issue before the horsemen comes down to this choice: Maintain the current schedule and watch purses dwindle, or take a reduction in racing dates.

"We think the right thing to do for Monmouth is to preserve the $300,000 a day," said Dennis Drazin, legislative council for the horsemen's association.

However, that decision rests with the horsemen's association membership.

"It requires the consent of the horsemen at large," Drazin said. "The NJTHA board of directors and President Bud Keegan do not want to make any concessions that the horsemen do not support. We want to poll the horsemen on their position.

"If their position is that they'd like to cut days and keep purses competitive, then we will continue to explore that. If they tell us they would prefer to keep the days, we will do that."

The NJSEA awaits the horsemen's decision.

"The course they're taking is a good one to determine the desires of the horsemen," said Bruce Garland, the NJSEA's senior vice president. "We're prepared to run the days as they stand. However, Bob Kulina [Monmouth vice president of Thoroughbred racing] and I believe it would be better for the horsemen, the NJSEA, and Thoroughbred racing in New Jersey to maintain the quality of racing.

"I have had substantial discussion with Dennis Drazin, and I am prepared to continue those discussions if that's what a majority of the horsemen want to do."

Funny Cide leads list for Haskell

Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Funny Cide headlines the list of 26 horses invited to the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park Aug. 3.

Trainer Barclay Tagg has targeted the Haskell as the gelding's first start since he finished third in the Belmont Stakes.

Monmouth also invited Belmont winner Empire Maker, but trainer Bobby Frankel will likely decline the offer. Frankel will probably send Peace Rules, the winner of the Louisiana Derby and Blue Grass Stakes.

Other possible Haskell runners on the invitation list include Strong Hope, who won the Dwyer for his fourth straight score; Sky Mesa, third in the Dwyer in his 3-year-old debut; Wild and Wicked, undefeated winner of the Ohio Derby; Excessivepleasure, winner of the Iowa and WinStar derbies; and Kool Humor, a Jersey-bred who captured the Alysheba Stakes at Lone Star in his last outing.

Here is the complete list of invitees:

Best Minister, Champali, Christine's Outlaw, Dynever, El Ruller, Empire Maker, Excessivepleasure, Eye of the Tiger, Funny Cide, Go Rockin' Robin, Kool Humor, Max Forever, Midway Road, Mobil, New York Hero, Peace Rules, Rock Again, Scrimshaw, Sky Mesa, Soto, Strong Hope, Supah Blitz, Ten Most Wanted, Trust N Luck, Wando, and Wild and Wicked.

Valenzo won't be alone in front

Valenzo, an impressive gate-to-wire winner in his most recent start, faces an interesting challenge Wednesday afternoon in the featured $39,000 allowance race.

He should have company on the pace from Wild Horses, who caught sloppy tracks while running second in his last two outings, and Mountain Creek, who loomed boldly into contention and missed by a half-length in his latest.