09/26/2004 11:00PM

Monmouth handle and hope for future both rise

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Sensational victories by Ghostzapper and Lion Heart, the landing of the 2007 Breeders' Cup, and a solid upturn in business highlighted the Monmouth Park season that concluded Sunday.

The New Jersey Thoroughbred circuit shifts to The Meadowlands Racetrack on Friday with the Grade 3, $300,000 Pegasus Stakes for 3-year-olds the opening night feature. First post will be 7:30 p.m.

The 2004 Monmouth meet could be an important springboard to the future. It was the first season of a four-year, $86 million deal struck with New Jersey's casino industry that boosted purses above $300,000 a day. It also recast the schedule to include September racing at Monmouth for the life of the agreement.

Securing the Breeders' Cup, a major accomplishment formally announced on Haskell Day, will trigger a series of needed renovations, including a new turf course.

"I think we're going to have future interest in new outfits coming to New Jersey because of the stability," said Bob Kulina, vice president and general manager for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns Monmouth and The Meadowlands. "The Breeders Cup announcement energized the entire industry in the state."

The numbers were solid, topped by a track-record total handle of $12,686,430 for Haskell Day on Aug. 8.

Average daily attendance of 9,086 for the 87 days was 4 percent higher than in 2003, while the average daily total handle of $2,843,544 was 17 percent above the previous year. Ontrack handle averaged $706,607, an increase of 6 percent.

A lack of advertising and promotion made post-Labor Day racing one of the best-kept secrets on the Jersey Shore. The track was also hurt in September by the loss of Belmont Park simulcasts in an ongoing dispute between mid-Atlantic tracks and the New York Racing Association.

On the racing front, the victories by Ghostzapper in the Iselin Handicap and Lion Heart in the Haskell were the standout equine performances.

Jockey Joe Bravo won a record 10th title. Michael Baze was the leading apprentice.

Tim Hills took his second Monmouth training title in the last three years, and Michael Gill repeated as leading owner.