03/15/2011 10:22AM

Monmouth plans $4.95 million stakes schedule


Though plans for Monmouth Park’s 2011 Thoroughbred meet remain unsettled, the New Jersey track will distribute $4.95 million in purses for non-overnight stakes races this year, according to the track.

The richest purse will be offered in the $1 million Haskell Invitational, a Grade 1 race for 3-year-olds that has long been the centerpiece of the track’s summer meet. The Haskell is scheduled as part of an eight-stakes card on July 31 that will also feature two other graded stakes, the Grade 3 Oceanport and the Grade 3 Matchmaker, both on the turf.

Monmouth Park, which is currently owned and operated by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, has been granted 141 live racing dates for 2011, but that schedule is expected to be changed as early as Friday, when the state’s racing commission will consider an amended dates request that may go as low as 80 live racing dates, according to New Jersey officials.

But the Friday meeting also may not be the last say on the matter. At the direction of Gov. Chris Christie, the NJSEA is currently entertaining bids to lease the track for 2011 and beyond, with the winning bidder expected to be named by June 1. Bidders may attach different conditions for dates in their offers to operate the tracks, and those offers could further influence the track’s live racing schedule.

According to Robert Kulina, Monmouth’s general manager, the track will open in May, as is traditional. But the in-week racing schedule remains in flux as horsemen, the state, and the NJSEA consider their options.

The stakes schedule, which does not include the track’s overnight stakes, runs from May 30 to Sept. 5. All of the stakes are held on weekend dates, with the exception of the May 30 Violet Stakes, a Grade 3 race scheduled for a Monday. May 30 is Memorial Day, a national holiday.

The meet’s other Grade 1 stakes, the $750,000 United Nations, is scheduled for July 2, along with the Grade 3 Salvator Mile. The next day, the track’s local prep for the Haskell, the Grade 3, $150,000 Jersey Shore Stakes, will be contested.

The Grade 3, $250,000 Philip H. Iselin Stakes – once a major race for older horses – is scheduled for Aug. 20. The Grade 2, $250,000 Molly Pitcher Stakes is scheduled for Aug. 28.

Last year, during 71 total days of racing in which average daily purse distribution was just shy of $800,000, Monmouth distributed $12.1 million in stakes purses. The outlays were made possible by a $19 million subsidy from Atlantic City casinos, but that subsidy will not be available this year, and Christie has vowed to block any additional subsidies to the racing industry as the state seeks to close an enormous budget deficit.

John Heims, a spokesperson for Monmouth, said that total purses in overnight stakes will likely total approximately $7 million, bringing total stakes purse distribution to nearly $12 million, comparable to stakes purse distribution last year. The overnight stakes scheduled will be released at a later date, Heims said.