05/05/2008 11:00PM

Monmouth expands schedule

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Monmouth Park opens for its 63rd season Friday, a scheduling wrinkle that is a throwback to an earlier era.

In recent seasons, Monmouth ran only on Saturdays and Sundays in May before switching to a Wednesday-through-Sunday schedule in June.

Fridays have been added this year, expanding the May weekends to three days: Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

According to vice president and general manager Bob Kulina, a Friday opener is not unprecedented. Friday openers were a staple at Monmouth before the reopening of Garden State Park in the early 1980s.

The first card kicks off a 99-day meet running through Sept. 28. Opening day will be the first action at the track since it hosted the Breeders' Cup last October.

Post time remains 12:50 p.m.

The additional Fridays help the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority fulfill a legal requirement to run 141 Thoroughbred dates this year at its two tracks: Monmouth and the Meadowlands.

In recent seasons, the authority reduced that total to 120 days with the consent of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. With no agreement this year to shorten the season, the authority is squeezing in racing dates where it can.

"We need to fit the days into the timeframe that we have," Kulina said. "We decided not to open against the Kentucky Derby last weekend. Opening on a Friday and running on Fridays in May were the options."

The horsemen are holding firm on the 141 dates, even if it means a six-day schedule at the Meadowlands in October and November.

Dennis Drazin, president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association, called a possible negotiated reduction in the schedule "unlikely."

"We are not reducing days," he said.

Purse money will remain constant at Monmouth, averaging $330,000 a day, the same as last year. The money comes in part from a three-year purse supplement from Atlantic City casinos that forestalls the possible introduction of slot machines or video lottery terminals at the state's racetracks during the life of the deal.

"We are thankful for the hard work by Gov. [Jon] Corzine to facilitate the agreement," said Dennis Robinson, president of the authority. "We are now working with the administration and the legislature on a necessary long-term solution."

The meet highlight, as always, is the Grade 1, $1 million Haskell Invitational for 3-year-olds on Aug. 3. Monmouth's other Grade 1 stakes is the $750,000 United Nations Stakes on the turf on July 5, a Breeders' Cup Challenge Win and You're In stakes.

Monmouth will run 80 stakes during the meet, including 13 graded events.