09/29/2009 12:00AM

More day racing during longer meet


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The Thoroughbred meet had been uncomfortably shoe-horned into the Meadowlands's calendar in recent seasons.

The 2007 meet was fragmented, an accommodation to the Breeders' Cup that fall at Monmouth Park, the Big M's sister track.

Last year was a tight squeeze, a frenzied six-day race week dashed off before an end-of-year Standardbred meet.

The 2009 season that gets under way Thursday afternoon at 1:10 p.m. Eastern should unfold at a more comfortable pace. The fall harness meet is gone, paving the way for a five-day schedule for the 47 dates through Dec. 5.

"This seems like the most natural schedule," said Bill Knauf, the assistant vice president for Thoroughbred racing.

The most unnatural part of this year's schedule will be a heavy dose of day racing at the start. With Bruce Springsteen headlining a series of sold-out concerts across the parking lot at Giants Stadium, the first seven cards will be run in the afternoon.

Once "The Boss" clears out, the Meadowlands will settle into a pattern of Monday and Tuesday afternoons with night cards Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m.

Stretching the calendar into December could be beneficial on several fronts, according to Knauf, starting with field size. The longer season could encourage stables to linger longer in New Jersey.

As in recent years, the Meadowlands meet depends entirely on shippers. No horses are stabled on the grounds.

The New Jersey-based horses remain at Monmouth for the duration of the Meadowlands meet, shipping in to run. When the Meadowlands offered only a six-week meet, there was little incentive to stay once the Monmouth season ended in late September.

"With the expanded length of season, hopefully more stables will stick around," Knauf said. "This can be a good transition to wherever they are going for the winter. With the shorter meets, there was just not enough racing."

A larger horse population could translate into a better product, especially for simulcast bettors.

"We look at this as an opportunity," Knauf said. "We are the premier signal on the off-peak days Monday and Tuesday and at night. It's a chance to grow our simulcast business across the country."

As usual, the Grade 2, $300,000 Meadowlands Cup on Oct. 16 is the premier event. The Cup, and the other three graded stakes, had their purses trimmed to help fund the $250,000 that boosted the Haskell Invitational to $1.25 million to lure Rachel Alexandra.

One of the Meadowlands's best assets is a pristine turf course, a rarity in the region so late in the year.

Not surprisingly, the opening-day feature is on the grass: a third-level optional $50,000 claimer for fillies and mares going one mile.

Namaste's Wish is the likely choice, following a neck loss in a similar race at Monmouth.

Trainer Graham Motion will take two shots at beating the favorite with the uncoupled duo of Cherokee Queen and Sefroua.

Cherokee Queen returns to grass following two starts on the synthetic surface at Presque Isle Downs: a fourth in the Windward Stakes and a second in a third-level allowance.

Sefroua is winless in three races this season, most recently running fourth at Monmouth in her first start since April.

"We had high hopes for her this year," Motion said. "Obviously, she's been a little bit disappointing. She probably needed that last race, her first since throat surgery."