06/13/2003 12:00AM

Incentives spelled out for Haskell


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Monmouth Park has a history of going the extra mile - and spending additional dollars - to support the Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.

The premier event of the meet, it takes place this year on Aug. 3. A $1 million race for 3-year-olds, it has become the best-attended racing day in New Jersey, having attracted crowds in excess of 45,000 for each of the last two renewals.

That success comes at a price. Over the years, Monmouth has sweetened the pot for owners and trainers. It doubled the purse to $500,000 to lure Alysheba in 1987. Touch Gold picked up a $150,000 bonus in 1997. It added $500,000 to push the purse to a record $1.5 million to attract Point Given in 2001.

The practice of Haskell incentives became a source of controversy last year, when the news broke that Monmouth paid trainer Bob Baffert a personal appearance fee of $50,000 to bring War Emblem.

"Last year, it became a story," said Bob Kulina, Monmouth's vice president. "I said when it became a story that we'll write it physically into the conditions of the race instead of tailoring it to circumstances."

The bonus money for 2003 is clearly spelled out in the race conditions: $25,000 to the trainer and owner per Triple Crown victory, if their horse starts in the Haskell.

Barclay Tagg and the Sackatoga Stable stand to each pick up $50,000 if Funny Cide runs in the Haskell. Bobby Frankel and Juddmonte Farm are both in line for $25,000 bonuses if Empire Maker runs in the race.

"Up front, there is no secret to what we're doing," said Kulina. "We have committed a potential $150,000 bonus to the winning connections of the Triple Crown races."

Kulina looks at the bonuses as money well spent in support of a race vital to the success of the sport in the state.

"We look as the bonuses as marketing dollars to market New Jersey racing's premier event," Kulina said. "There are other traditional races around the country. We have to be as aggressive as we can in trying to bring the best horses to New Jersey."

While the bonuses are spelled out in the conditions this year, there is no guarantee the practice will continue.

"Will we do it this way next year?" Kulina said. "Maybe, maybe not."