05/21/2010 11:00PM

Much anticipated Monmouth meet opens

Photos by Z/Keeneland
Get Stormy will make his season debut in Saturday's $100,000 Elkwood at 1 1/16 miles on the turf.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - Willie Sutton famously quipped that he robbed banks because "that's where the money is."

In a strictly legal sense, money will be the driving factor at Monmouth Park's 65th season, which begins Saturday with a 13-race card starting at 12:50 p.m.

Monmouth will offer $50 million in purses over 50 days. That averages out to a cool $1 million a day for the core meet, which runs through Labor Day, shooting Monmouth to the top of the industry in purse money over Saratoga and Del Mar, the traditional summer leaders.


"This is a game changer, not just for racing in New Jersey, but for the entire region," said Dennis Robinson, president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority, which owns Monmouth.

Monmouth will offer triple last year's daily average, over about half the racing dates.

Monmouth will race Saturday and Sunday on the first weekend. It will then shift to a three-day schedule, Friday through Sunday, with the exception of holiday weekends.

The lure of the big bucks, not surprisingly, has sparked widespread interest among horsemen coast to coast, attracting new barns to alter the backstretch landscape.

For the first time in recent memory, a number of California trainers will stable at Monmouth, including Bob Hess Jr., Michael Machowsky, Mike Mitchell, and Peter Miller.

New York trainers, who had divisions here in the past or shipped in occasionally to run will be on the grounds in greater numbers this summer. That list includes Hall of Famer Nick Zito, Steve Asmussen, Linda Rice, Gary Contessa, Rick Violette, and Bill Badgett.

Other prominent names setting up shop here include John Servis, Patrick Biancone, Mike Maker, Wesley Ward, Ian Wilkes, Ferris Allen, Steve Klesaris, Michael Trombetta, Dick Small, and Scott Fairlie.

Jockeys have also taken notice, with Eclipse Award winners Garrett Gomez and John Velazquez making the move to Monmouth. Gomez will plunge right in with mounts in 12 of the 13 races on the opening-day card.

With many of the old-line Monmouth trainers and jockeys returning, the scramble to get a share of that $1 million a day figures to be highly competitive.

The opening-day card, worth a combined $812,000, demonstrates how the money will be spread to all levels.

The second race, a bottom-level event for $5,000 claimers, now carries a $30,000 purse. Maiden special weights go for $75,000, and first-level allowances offer $80,000. Stakes are worth at least $100,000, the value of the two overnight stakes opening day.

Get Stormy will make his season debut in Saturday's Elkwood at 1 1/16 miles on the turf. He closed last year with four straight wins, including a pair of Grade 3 victories in Kentucky. Kiss the Kid enters the Elkwood off a runner-up finish in the Grade 3 Ben Ali at Keeneland.

In the six-furlong Decathlon at six furlongs, Go Go Shoot, a winner of two stakes here last summer, also makes his first start of the season and his debut in the Pletcher barn.

The highlight of the meet remains the $1 million Haskell Invitational for 3-year-olds Aug. 1. The Haskell returns to network television this year on ABC. Track officials are hopeful they can lure Kentucky Derby winner Super Saver and Preakness winner Lookin At Lucky for a rematch.

Based on recent history, they have a shot.

Owners WinStar Farm and trainer Todd Pletcher, the team behind Super Saver, have had great success in the Haskell, winning with Bluegrass Cat in 2006 and Any Given Saturday in 2007. Bob Baffert, Lookin At Lucky's trainer, has won the Haskell with Point Given in 2001, War Emblem in 2002, and Roman Ruler in 2005.

A shorter New Jersey racing schedule this year is a radical departure, one that will affect the stakes calendar. The New Jersey Thoroughbred season went from 141 days in 2009 to 71 this year.

After Labor Day, Monmouth will run a 21-day fall meet through Nov. 21 with purses between $250,000 to $300,000 a day.

There will be no fall Thoroughbred racing at the Meadowlands this year. Two major stakes from that meet have transferred to Monmouth: The Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup has been rechristened the Monmouth Cup and will be run Oct. 9, and the Grade 3 Pegasus for 3-year-olds now serves as a Haskell prep June 19.

The betting format remains largely unchanged, including 10-cent superfectas on every race and a 50-cent pick five with a 15 percent takeout.