05/09/2012 3:38PM

Monmouth Park: Horsemen set to operate their inaugural meet

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OCEANPORT, N.J. – It’s show time – in every sense – for New Jersey’s Thoroughbred horsemen with the opening of Monmouth Park on Saturday.

The return of the Jersey Shore’s resort track is always an anticipated event for racing fans in the region. There is added pressure this time on the horsemen to deliver a quality show.

For the first time, the meet belongs to the horsemen. After a winter full of twists and turns during which New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie threatened to close Monmouth, the horsemen were awarded the racing permit.

Starting Saturday, they must deliver racing cards generating enough handle to keep the operation afloat and fund average overnight purses of $400,000 a day for the core meet from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

“Equine athletes always follow the money,” said John Forbes, president of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association. “We just hope we don’t have to condense the meet any further because we are down to the number of days we are down to so our purses can be as high as they are.”

The meet starts off with a 12-race opening-day card topped by the $75,000 Decathlon Stakes for sprinters. The Decathlon drew a field of nine, including Congressional Page, winner of this race in 2010; Soaring Stocks, who is 3 for 4 this year, including the Sunshine Millions Sprint at Gulfstream Park; and Zero Rate Policy, who captured the Rumson here last summer.

First post is 12:50 p.m.

The Monmouth season is 65 days through Oct. 7. There will also be eight all-turf cards run at the Meadowlands Racetrack in the fall, extending the season to Nov. 3.

Monmouth races Saturday and Sunday for the remainder of May, with Memorial Day added on May 28. The schedule expands to Friday through Sunday in June and July along with a holiday card on July 4.

Monmouth will offer four twilight cards on Thursdays in August with first post at 4 p.m.

Fans will notice several new features this meet with four video boards the most prominent additions. Ranging from 10 to 33 feet across, the boards will bring the action to every part of the track, including the picnic area and the paddock saddling ring behind the grandstand.

The food will also have a new look with BAM! Management taking over the concession stands and restaurants.