05/26/2004 11:00PM

It's a Shore thing

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Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Casino money is supplementing Monmouth's purses this year - a development that helped lure Stewart Elliott, Smarty Jones's jockey, away from Philly Park.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - The summer wind comes blowin' in for New Jersey racing fans Saturday afternoon when Monmouth Park reopens for its 59th season.

Monmouth gets under way at 12:55 p.m. for the first of 87 dates, with the season continuing through Sept. 26 at the Jersey Shore's resort track.

This should be an upbeat meet thanks to record purse money. A supplement from the state's casinos will enable Monmouth to offer $320,000 per day before Labor Day.

The enhanced purses helped attract 137 entries for the 12-race opening-day card, an average of more than 11 horses a race.

The money also helped lure Stewart Elliott, Smarty Jones's jockey, who will ride at Monmouth this summer.

The Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 8 is the high point of the meet. The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds has traditionally attracted leading Triple Crown runners.

Other major dates include the Independence Day weekend, which features the Grade 1, $750,000 United Nations Handicap on July 3 and the Grade 2, $300,000 Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup Handicap on July 4. The Grade 2, $200,000 Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks takes place on Aug. 15, with the Grade 3, $200,000 Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap set for Aug. 21.

Monmouth launches the season with a stakes-filled opening weekend. The Grade 3, $100,000 Red Bank Handicap tops the Saturday card, while the Grade 3, $100,000 Jersey Derby is the Monday feature.

Burning Roma will pack top weight of 120 pounds in the Red Bank at one mile on the turf. The 6-year-old Burning Roma, a winner of more than $1.4 million, has been effective throughout his career on both dirt and grass.

In his most recent outing, he finished second in the Grade 2 Maker's Mark on the turf at Keeneland.

Burning Roma tuned up for the Red Bank with a five-furlong work in 1:01 over Monmouth's main track on Monday.

He never got untracked at Monmouth last summer. Burning Roma was pointed toward last year's Red Bank, but trainer Heather Giglio backed off when the horse bled badly in a workout. His lone Monmouth appearance was a badly beaten fifth in the Oceanport Handicap, which was taken off the turf.

"The whole season, it was just one thing after another," said Giglio.

Jesus Castanon has the mount Saturday.

Other contenders in the 13-horse field include the entry of Wudantunoit and Sardaukar from owner Michael Gill; Chilly Rooster, who won the Grade 3 Fort Marcy Handicap at Aqueduct; and Spruce Run, who captured the Bob Harding Stakes here last summer.

Monmouth graded stakes

DATERACEGRADEPURSE
May 29Red Bank Handicap3$100,000
May 31Jersey Derby3100,000
June 26Jersey Shore BC3100,000
July 3United Nations1750,000
July 4Molly Pitcher BC2300,000
July 17Long Branch BC3100,000
July 25Salvator Mile3100,000
Aug. 8Haskell Invitational11,000,000
Aug. 15Monmouth Park BC Oaks2200,000
Aug. 21Iselin BC Handicap3200,000
Aug. 28Sapling Stakes3100,000