07/14/2010 11:00PM

Monmouth roundup

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WHO'S HOT

Is anyone hotter than Jose Lezcano? He won nine races from 24 mounts (37.5 percent) over the last two weekends of racing (July 3 to July 11) and was tied for fourth in the jockey standings despite riding here part-time. Through last weekend, he had won on nearly 28 percent of his mounts overall (17 for 61). Eibar Coa rode his 4,000th career winner July 9, one of his three winners on the card. Trainer Jane Cibelli won three races between July 9-11, including a stakes race. Stephen DiMauro went into last weekend 1 for 17 but won with 3 of 7 starters between July 9 and 11.

WHO'S NOT

After a very quick start, Carlos Marquez Jr. went 3 of 54 from July 2 to July 11, including an 0-for-24 skid last weekend, between July 9 and 11. Trainer Eddie Broome was in an uncharacteristic slump, going 1 for 22 since June 19.

TRACK TRENDS

Friday, July 9: The fractions for the seventh race look slow, but it was a race that set up nicely for the closers. The eighth lacked speed, and favored front-runners; the 10th was another race with little pace in the field, making Maddy's Crowd's win all the more impressive.

Saturday, July 10: The opener, a $30,000 claimer for nonwinners of two ages 3 and up, came up faster than par. Speed dominated in the second race, which comprised mostly closers. Valentine Daisy made a strong late run to score in the ninth. Nacho Friend is one of the unluckiest horses on the grounds, once again running against the race flow in the Long Branch and gamely finishing second.

Sunday, July 11: Atomic Rain failed as part of the favored entry in the third race, but the pace scenario worked against him and all closers in the race. Smokin Girl somehow paid $43.80 in the fourth despite competitive Beyers, making Finger Lakes shippers a group to keep an eye on. Vindicat was lucky not to be disqualified in the seventh; he clearly impeded at least one horse who finished behind him. Pace made the race in the John McSorley, in which a lack of speed in the field helped General Perfect wire the field and upset Silver Timber.

A SUITE STORY

If you know about the Grant, Cleveland, and Spend a Buck rooms at Monmouth Park, you probably either work at the track or your handle pays the salary of someone who does. That's the way officials at Monmouth Park like it when it comes to these "secret" betting suites.

For years, officials at Monmouth Park have realized the need to reward their biggest bettors. Turning the Trophy Room into an exclusive club 14 years ago was one way the track let them know their business was appreciated. With plush seating for about 75 horseplayers, waitress service, private tellers with high minimums, and 35 televisions around the room, the Trophy Room has provided convenience and comfort for the track's best customers, who typically wager at least $20,000 per month. These are the bettors the track wants to impress.

Then, there are guys like Brad Altshuld, a guy you need to impress.

When Bill Knauf, assistant general manager and assistant vice president of Thoroughbred racing at Monmouth Park, helped design the ultra-private rooms, Altshuld was the kind of guy he had in mind. Altshuld, a 30-year-old from Long Branch, is a graduate of NYU's business school, an entrepreneur, and the kind of horseplayer Knauf sees as the future of the game: young, successful, and well educated in the art of handicapping.

Altshuld said he prefers the Grant Room over the Trophy Room because of its greater privacy. The Grant Room overlooks the run into the first turn and, like the Cleveland, features 13 flat-screen televisions, a betting station, leather couches, and waitress service. Black net curtains allow players to see outside, but those who are outside cannot see in. The Grant and Cleveland Rooms were designed for individual parties − big players and their families and friends − and that's it. The Spend a Buck occupies a larger space and could accommodate a couple of players and their groups. Tucked away in a corner of the track, with a view of the paddock, the Spend a Buck also boasts a wall of televisions, with a comfortable seating area that could easily host six to eight people.

"I used to play in the teletheatre, but it got to be too chaotic," Altshuld said. "Some guys like to yell at the TV's and make a whole lot of noise during the races, but that's not me. I'm more of a quiet guy, and it's much quieter. So I asked if there was another place for me to play."

One look at Altshuld's Big M Club Players Reward account history, and he was quickly ushered into a private room. He has been in one suite or another every day he has come to the track since. The founder of a successful online company that sells concert and sporting event tickets, Altshuld wagers enough to qualify for Platinum Level status in the Big M Club, which requires bets totaling at least $40,000 per month.

On a recent live racing day, Altshuld, accompanied by his mother, Carla, a casual racing fan, enjoyed the action from one of the suites with a different track showing on each of the monitors. The betting terminal in the room was unmanned, but Knauf said he would happily provide a teller if requested. Food and beverages were just a phone call away. A horseplayer really couldn't ask for much more − that is, if he's able to get into the room in the first place.

DRY IDEAS

The lack of precipitation, the oppressive heat, and humidity that has gripped the Northeast this month has played havoc with track maintenance. It has been a challenge to keep the main track and turf course bias-free, and it has been especially hard to maintain the grass course without appreciable rainfall for weeks at a time.

"You can never put as much water on it as a good rainstorm can," said Bob Kulina, vice president and general manager at Monmouth Park. "We're lucky in that we have four off days where we can work on the track and on the turf course. But after what happened with the Breeders' Cup and last year's Haskell, I'm never going to root for rain down here."

Oceanport had two days of persistent storms during the 2007 Breeders' Cup, hosted by Monmouth Park for the first time that year, and last year's Haskell card was marred by torrential rains that struck after the card began, with over an inch of rain quickly swamping the track. This year, according to accuweather.com, Oceanport saw only 2.2 inches of rain in June.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

On Sunday, July 18, the track hosts the Vans Warped Tour, a concert that will be held in the parking lot and feature a dozen or so bands. Horseplayers will enjoy free admission and parking. If you are going to the concert, you will need to buy the tickets in advance at ticketmaster.com.

Tickets are on sale for next Saturday's Lady's Secret Stakes, which marks the return of 2009 Horse of the Year Rachel Alexandra, winner of the Haskell over this track last year. Track officials are expecting at least 15,000 fans. If that's the betting line, take the over.

HORSES TO WATCH

Poni Colada

Trainer: Steve Asmussen

Last race: July 10, 7th

Finish: 1st by 2

After this impressive victory against $35,000 claimers, in which he earned a Beyer Speed Figure of 94, he seems ready to face better competition.

Nacho Friend

Trainer: Kelly Breen

Last race: July 10, 11th

Finish: 2nd by 2 1/2

He ran against the race flow yet again, trying to close into mild fractions, but ran a solid race, giving odds-on favorite Trappe Shot a scare off the turn. He is winless in three starts at this meet, all against stakes company, but he hasn't gotten a lot of pace help.

Just Playin Around

Trainer: Tim Hills

Last race: July 11, 8th

Finish: 3rd by 4

He came running late in the McSorley, and though it was too late, the rally was impressive since the race lacked speed and was won in gate-to-wire fashion by General Perfect. He can run down the right group given a little bit of pace help.