09/24/2006 11:00PM

Monmouth numbers down


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The Monmouth Park meet that concluded Sunday was a season of unusual occurrences that produced a down year for racing on the Jersey Shore.

All major averages fell from 2005.

Ontrack handle on live Monmouth races dropped 10 percent to $580,824, as daily attendance slipped 7.5 percent to 8,400.

Total handle from all sources on Monmouth races dropped 1.6 percent to $2,354,237.

As a seasonal meet, Monmouth is heavily dependent on three major holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day. Each was damaged this year by separate factors.

The first seven weeks of the meet, including Memorial Day, were hurt by the absence of turf racing. Installation of the new grass course, a major renovation to accommodate the Breeders' Cup in 2007, fell behind schedule in the fall of 2005, and turf racing at Monmouth did not debut this year until late June.

Monmouth tried to offset the turf absence by shifting three dates - one of which was rained out, to the Meadowlands racetrack for all-grass cards.

"We knew we'd have issues last winter when the turf course didn't get finished," said Bob Kulina, Monmouth's vice president and general manager.

"Going the first seven weeks with out grass racing obviously affected the product. It forced the race office to utilize a lot of dirt horses. You felt that the rest of the meet."

A budget impasse between the legislature and the governor triggered an unprecedented shut down of New Jersey state government and cost Monmouth two cards during the July 4th week. Finally, Tropical Depression Ernesto washed out the Saturday program on Labor Day weekend.

One other day was lost to extreme heat, for a total of five cancellations - a very high total for a summer meet.

"It was a very strange year," Kulina said. "Things kept popping up."

The three B's - Bravo, Breen, and Broome - won the major titles.

"Jersey Joe" Bravo extended his own record with a 12th riding title, riding 125 winners. Kelly Breen, with 40 victories, was top trainer for a second straight year, and Eddie Broome topped the owners' list a third time with his 17 winners.

Trainer Todd Pletcher had a strong meet, winning 11 stakes, including both Grade 1's: the United Nations with English Channel and the Haskell Invitational with Bluegrass Cat.