11/05/2008 1:00AM

New format boosts fields for Juvenile


EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The New Jersey Juvenile debuts Friday, replacing the New Jersey Futurity at the Meadowlands Racetrack.

The first edition of the New Jersey Juvenile drew a pair of $60,000 divisions, one open to both sexes, the other restricted to fillies. Both are six-furlong races for 2-year-old New Jersey-breds.

Unlike the Futurity, which carried nominating and sustaining fees, the Juvenile is a straightforward stakes.

"We saw that when you had to nominate horses as weanlings, yearlings, and again as 2-year-olds, that nominations were down," said Mike Campbell, executive director of the Thoroughbred Breeders' Association of New Jersey. "Some people just forgot to nominate. To make it a more competitive race with fewer maidens, we talked to the racetracks and the horsemen. All agreed it was better to stop the nominations and just have a regular entry process."

Campbell thinks the change will strengthen the race. This year, there is only one maiden in each division.

"We used to have a lot of maidens running only because the owner had paid the nomination fees and wanted to get some of that money back," Campbell said. "On the other side, there were horses who had won races, sometimes multiple races, who had to be supplemented into the race."

Trainer Russell Cash, enjoying an excellent meet with 6 wins from his first 18 starters, sends out a nautically named entry of Shipwreckstreasure and Master Mariner in the open division.

Shipwreckstreasure finished third in his debut, which came in the slop at six furlongs at the end of the Monmouth Park meet. In his two races since, both at longer distances, he has been more effective. He earned a 74 Beyer Speed Figure, highest in the field, last time while earning his maiden win in a one-mile race here.

"The only concern I have is that he seems to prefer more distance," Cash said. "It felt like we had to give him a shot in here. I think he's got a pretty good chance. He's a runner."

Master Mariner remains a maiden after five tries.

The star of the Juvenile could be Love That Dance in the filly division. She was a dominant allowance winner against open company here last time out. The effort earned an 83 Beyer, easily the top figure in either division.

"It seemed like the race helped her a little bit," said trainer Ben Perkins Jr. "She had trained real well. That was the race where she showed the ability we thought she had. It's hard to tell, but it didn't seem that it affected her much, if at all."

New Jersey surrounded by slots

Racetracks in New Jersey could be the only ones left in the region without alternative gaming, following the approval Tuesday of a state constitutional amendment in Maryland to authorize five video lottery licenses.

If Laurel Park gets one of those licenses, the circle surrounding New Jersey would be complete. Tracks in upstate New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia already have slots or video lottery terminals, which provide financial stability and boost purses.

The squeeze on New Jersey racing will be even more pronounced when Delaware North, under an agreement announced last month, eventually opens a VLT facility with 4,500 machines at Aqueduct.

New Jersey racing has remained competitive thanks to a series of annual $30 million purse supplements from the Atlantic City casinos. The tracks are completing the first season of a three-year deal that prohibits the introduction of VLTs during the life of the contract.