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Bobby Kulina, Dennis Drazin, and John Forbes. The $50 million meet idea was the brainchild of Kulina, Monmouth Park's general manager, and Drazin, who has been picked as the next chairman of the New Jersey State Racing Commission, and after a successful opening weekend, there's nothing but praise all around right now. Forbes, president of the New Jersey Horsemen's Association, and the rest of the state's trainers and breeders okayed the reduction in racing dates and are being rewarded for it in the form of $75,000 purses for statebred maiden races and a 20 percent bonus for Jersey-breds that hit the board in open races.
Paco Lopez, leading rider at Gulfstream Park this winter, was 0 for 21 on the opening weekend of racing. He had $63,750 in earnings, however, because every horse in every race is guaranteed $1,500.
Trying to determine a bias on the opening-day card is more confusing than the finale of "Lost." Sure, most winners were widest, but a couple of horses who crossed the wire first were inside for much of the running, and there were even a couple of gate-to-wire winners. The outer paths could have been best, but it may be wise to follow up on the rail runners before taking a plunge on the assumption that they were at a disadvantage Saturday.
Sunday's main track seemed fair. Speed-types did well but that may have been more of a function of the pace scenarios in the day's races, as many of the races lacked speed, which gave the front-runners an edge. The turf course on both days seemed to favor those along the inside and carried speed very well.
WEEKEND IN REVIEW
The first race of the meet gave longshot players a chance for an immediate score when Dream Waltz ($20.40) and Beat Jazz (62-1) completed a $1,296 exacta. Those were the only runners in the 12-horse field dropping from maiden special weight company into a maiden claimer. One to watch is firster Caylee's Song, who rushed up to contend after a slow start from the rail.
Precious Package ($3.60) was probably the first of many Richard Dutrow trainees who will drop in class and score at the 2010 meet. Dutrow has
always been tough here with horses moving down in class, and the new purse structure probably means he'll be even tougher; the $16,500 winner's share in this $5,000 claimer makes it good business to sell a more valuable horse for a discount. Catalina Fog completed the two-speed exacta.
Cause I Can, who finished fifth in the day's fourth race, made a couple of nice moves after breaking slowly, but he wasn't going to beat the impressive Partyallnightlong ($6.60) regardless. That one was geared down late while winning easily despite floating wide on the turn because of a loose horse.
The Decathlon Stakes went to Congressional Page ($6.20), who won the meet's first stakes race with the aid of a clean stalking trip behind the speedy Mr. Fantasy and Go Go Shoot. Mr. Fantasy had to rush up after a slow start and was sharp in defeat.
Ketan was closing well at the end of the ninth race, on the turf. That race was run with the portable rails out 24 feet, which generally leads to speed holding the edge. That was certainly the case here, as Two Notch Road ($18.80) and Da Plane controlled the pace and completed the exacta. Ketan rallied nicely to get the show despite traffic in the stretch.
The 10th race went to Sunshine Rambler, who was game to stave off favorite African Diamond in a quick N1X route. Dueling Alex made a mid-race run before backing off, a decent try for his first start since February.
The Elkwood Stakes on the turf lacked pace outside of the winner, Get Stormy ($8), who was a surprising 3-1 despite the obvious pace advantage. He could have trouble running back to this line under less-ideal circumstances. Closers, such as Pleasant Strike, have lots of room to
improve given a better pace setup next time.
Bid Til Included lost his best chance when he was checked and taken up at the eighth pole in the 13th and final race. He has upside when he
returns for trainer John Rigattieri.
Slow starts for Flirting for Love and A Bit of Madness paved the way for the speedy Untopable ($12.40) in the opener, and given an unpressured lead he delivered. He is one to downgrade next time.
The third race was perhaps the only race on the main track Sunday in which the race flow favored the closers. That makes the effort by Propellor Jones all the more impressive. A son of Smarty Jones, he held second despite a racelong duel, staving off all closers except the winner and favorite, Magic Tiger.
The sixth race marked the start of the pick five, which began with a $123,030 carryover after no one correctly selected all five winners on Saturday's wager. Another $683,153 was bet into the pool Sunday, and the sequence began with 11-1 Moneigh Lisa, who took advantage of a forward trip in a race lacking pace. The stone closers in here, such as Easta Monsta and Youland, deserve upgrades for next time.
Cognito ($7.80) won the seventh by a neck, but he was much the best. He was forced to come to a virtual stop when Starship Scott and Machismo came together and squeezed shut a narrow hole in late stretch, but Cognito rerallied and got up in a determined effort. The eighth race, a sprint lacking speed once expected pacesetter Wildcat Lake was scratched, was dominated by front-runners, creating a built-in excuse for the ralliers.
When a favorite wins by a head, it's usually easy to dismiss the performance, but Mystic Miracle couldn't have been more impressive in the ninth race. The rail was set out 24 feet, creating an inherent edge for the speeds, and there wasn't a lot of pace in the race to begin with, but Mystic Miracle came from the back of the field to nail the pacesetting Giant Mover on the wire.
The $100,000 Spend a Buck drew a solid field, but a lack of established speed made it tough to plot. Stretch-out sprinter Rule by Night set a slow pace, but he could not sustain his run and gave way into the lane, and Ibboyee ($6.60) was there to capitalize. That positioning came in handy for Ibboyee, with Our Dark Knight and Afleet Again closing well late. Afleet Again, who won the
Withers in his previous race, probably would have won his second straight stakes had he maintained a straight course through the stretch.
PERFORMANCE OF THE WEEKEND
In the past, if you got 37-1 on a horse ridden by Joe Bravo, you had yourself an expensive paper coaster, nothing more. In Sunday's 11th race, you had in your hands a $77.80 winner. Dp the Facilitator looked like a 37-1 horse, but it still was odd to see such a big price on a winner ridden by Bravo, who is almost always overbet. With John Velazquez, Edgar Prado, and Garrett Gomez in the jocks' room, Bravo fans may be in for some value for the first time since the 1990s.
WHAT TO WATCH
Monmouth Park couldn't have asked for better when the opening-day 50-cent pick five wasn't hit. The $123,029 carryover generated buzz among bettors. What was lost in the excitement, though, was that the initial pool was $193,151, almost triple the $71,558 bet last year on the Haskell Day pick five, the biggest non-carryover handle of 2009. Now that the wager has received some
exposure, expect the pick-five handle to swell each racing day as the combination of quality fields, bigger pool size, and low cost and takeout (15 percent) create the kind of exotic play horseplayers love.
There are six stakes this Memorial Day weekend, which features the first of three holiday Monday cards. Saturday's Lamplighter, for 3-year-olds, and Sunday's Little Silver, for 3-year-old fillies, are $100,000 races on the turf.
Monday's feature is the Grade 3, $150,000 Eatontown Stakes, also on the grass.
HORSES TO WATCH
Trainer: Kevin Sleeter
Last race: May 22, 1st
Finish: 6th by 12
The rail is usually a tough spot for firsters, and it certainly was for this colt, who was away slowly. He did rush up quickly to contend, however, making a nice run along the rail, and that may not have been the place to be on the opening-day card.
Cape Town King
Trainer: Tony Wilson
Last race: May 22, 2nd
Finish: 4th by 11 1/2
Unable to threaten the runaway winner, who was taking a big drop in class, but this race came up quick, and he did make a pair of moves before flattening out. He'll make his next start for underrated trainer Tony Wilson, who claimed him out of this $5,000 claimer.
Trainer: Richard Dutrow Jr.
Last race: May 22, 12th
Finish: 1st by 2 1/4
Sharp score here. She outran several other speeds to shake loose in the opening stages and maintained that edge despite racing on the inside against the daylong trend of closers winning from outer paths. She is capable of repeating, possibly against better.
All About Alex
Trainer: John Servis
Last race: May 23, 2nd
Finish: 3rd by 1 1/4
Well clear for the show here, and though she was no threat to the favorite and winner, she was also at a pace disadvantage, as the race was lacking in speed and she was coming from well off the pace. She can run down the right group of maidens given a better pace scenario.