05/18/2010 12:00AM

Monmouth set for a game-changing meet


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The mood was decidedly upbeat on a rainy Tuesday afternoon as Monmouth Park hosted its annual kickoff press conference.

The Turf Club was packed with owners, trainers, jockeys, and media members for the first official event launching one of the most eagerly awaited seasons in the track's 65-year history.

The meet that gets under way Saturday will be unlike any other at Monmouth. The core summer season will offer 50 days of racing with purses averaging $1 million a day, the highest in North America. First post will be 12:50 p.m. for the 12-race card.

After running Saturday and Sunday on the opening weekend, Monmouth will shift to primarily to a three-day-a-week schedule, Friday through Sunday, with the exception of holiday weekends.

The new purse level more than triples the $331,000 average last season. Everyone seemed eager to get started and see how the reduced schedule - down from five days a week - and the record purse money will play out.

"This is a game changer, not just for racing in New Jersey but for the entire region," said Dennis Robinson, president and chief executive officer for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which owns and operates Monmouth and the Meadowlands Racetrack. "With fewer dates and the highest purses in the country, we're more than a little optimistic that significant gains in attendance, handle, and field size are quickly on the horizon."

The $1 million Haskell Invitational on Aug. 1 tops an enhanced schedule in which every stakes is worth at least $100,000.

Also Tuesday, John Tammaro III was announced as the winner of the Buddy Raines Award, which goes annually to a recipient "whose conduct has been exemplary for professionalism, integrity, and service to Thoroughbred racing."

Tammaro, the son of legendary Maryland trainer John Tammaro Sr., was the leading trainer here in 1973, 1974, and 1986. His past Monmouth stakes winners include Thistyranthasclass (2000 Long Branch Stakes) and Smart N Classy (2005 Eatontown Stakes).

The summer meet will be followed by a Monmouth fall season, which runs through Nov. 21 on a Saturday and Sunday schedule.

There will be no Thoroughbred racing at the Meadowlands this year.