08/09/2004 12:00AM

Meadowlands Cup up $100k

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - The Grade 2 Meadowlands Breeders' Cup gets a solid purse increase and four graded stakes return this fall at Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands Racetrack.

The New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority finally released the stakes schedule for the post-Labor Day period at Monmouth through Sept. 26 and the Meadowlands meet from Oct. 1 through Nov. 13.

The Meadowlands Cup, at 1 1/8 miles on Oct. 8, will be worth $500,000, a $100,000 boost over last year.

The four returning graded stakes were dropped last year in a move to save money.

The Grade 3, $200,000 Boiling Springs Handicap for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles on the turf has a new home. It will move from The Meadowlands to Monmouth on Sept. 12.

The Grade 3, $300,000 Pegasus Handicap for 3-year-olds will be the opening-night feature at The Meadowlands.

The graded stakes schedule ends with two Grade 3, $200,000 races at 1 1/16 miles on the turf: the Cliff Hanger Handicap on Oct. 15 and the Violet Handicap for fillies and mares on Oct. 22.

The graded stakes will be complimented by $3 million in overnight stakes this fall, along with daily purses that average $300,000.

"It's a competitive graded-stakes schedule, and the overnight purses will be $100,000 a day higher," said racing secretary Mike Dempsey. "We're looking forward to some very competitive racing."

Midnight Express well spotted

Trainer Glenn Thompson has always been aggressive in placing Midnight Express.

A 3-year-old colt, Midnight Express has sometimes wound up in spots way over his head, as when he finished 26 3/4 lengths behind Birdstone in last year's Grade 1 Champagne Stakes at Belmont.

The aggressive approach has been paying off lately, and Midnight Express should again reap the benefit Wednesday at Monmouth in the $51,000 allowance feature for New Jersey-breds going six furlongs.

He has run 91 and 89 Beyer Speed Figures in his last two races, numbers that tower over the rest of the field. The next best lifetime Beyer in the race belongs to Orion's Jade, who ran an 80 in each of his last two outings.

The way Thompson managed Midnight Express makes the colt clearly the one to beat in this spot.

Although he had only a maiden win from early in his 2-year-old season, Thompson began Midnight Express's 2004 campaign by throwing him to the wolves in the John J Reilly Handicap, an opening-day feature for the top older New Jersey-breds.

Midnight Express raced well, rallying from 10th to finish fourth.

"He came flying from way, way back," said Thompson. "It was a really strong race, but if I had to do it over again, I would probably run him in an easier spot."

Thompson next put Midnight Express on the turf in an open allowance spot where he ran fifth going 1 1/16 miles.

From there, it was another challenging spot: the Grade 3 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup Stakes, where he ran third, behind the winner, Pomeroy.

"I figured he had a chance for third," said Thompson. "With luck we might have gotten more."

After two races against open company, Midnight Express returned to the New Jersey-bred sprints. Thompson, continuing the pattern, again took an aggressive stance by jumping the colt up one condition to face non-winners-of-two-other than.

"I looked at the race and I knew there would be only six or seven horses, and he's a closer," said Thompson. "The one-other-than was getting 20 horses. Even if they split, I would still be in a 10- or 11-horse field. I felt confident enough in his ability that he could be right there."

With apprentice rider Michael Baze aboard, Midnight Express rallied for second. He got the win in the same condition next time out with leading rider Joe Bravo aboard.

"With Bravo, he seemed like a different horse," said Thompson. "He laid a lot closer. Bravo seems to fit him really well."

By jumping a level in his last two races, Midnight Express comes back Wednesday with a chance to win the same condition again.

Bravo has the return call.

Fall 2004 New Jersey graded stakes schedule

DATETRACKEVENTCONDITIONSDISTANCEPURSE
Sun.,Sept. 12MTHBoiling Springs (G3)F, 3YO1 1/16 Miles (T)$200,000
Fri.,Oct. 1MEDPegasus (G3)3YO1 1/8 Miles300,000
Fri.,Oct. 8MEDMeadowlands BC (G2)3YO & Up1 1/8 Miles500,000
Fri.,Oct. 15MEDCliffhanger Handicap (G3)3YO & Up1 1/16 Miles (T)200,000
Fri.,Oct. 22MEDViolet Handicap (G3)F&M, 3YO & Up1 1/16 Miles (T)200,000