08/21/2008 11:00PM

Open Skies at home in sprints


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer Tim Hills briefly considered wheeling Open Skies back on short rest for the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks on Aug. 9.

"The race setup wasn't ideal and the timing, running back in one week, certainly wasn't ideal," Hills said.

Hills found a more favorable spot Sunday at Monmouth Park for the versatile New Jersey-bred in the $70,000 Miss Woodford Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at six furlongs.

Open Skies has already shown she can effectively run long or short against open or statebred company on the turf or main track.

Hills believes her future is sprinting.

"Her most impressive race was a seven-eighths win at Gulfstream," Hills said. "She really handles the turns well. That's her greatest strength. That's where she's able to break races open. I'd have to say her greatest strength is as a one-turn sprinter."

The Miss Woodford nicely filled a gap in her schedule until the $60,000 Eleven North Handicap against New Jersey-bred fillies and mares here Sept. 20.

"We looked at other spots at Saratoga and Delaware Park, but this looked like the best fit," Hills said.

As usual, Joe Bravo will ride.

A Little Gem was an easy winner in her season debut in slop here July 24, her first race for trainer Eddie Plesa Jr. She is unbeaten in three starts at Monmouth, including the Sorority Stakes last September.

"She looks great and she's doing great," Plesa said. "I can't say the slop really helped her last time, but she certainly has a fondness for this racetrack."

Pablo Fragoso rides.

Robby Albarado, riding Hystericalady in the Grade 2 Molly Pitcher Stakes later on the card, picked up the mount on Morakami.

Sprinkler malfunction soaks turf

The skies were clear and there wasn't a hint of rain, but the two grass races on Monmouth's Friday card came off the turf when a malfunctioning sprinkler head soaked a portion of the course overnight.

A team of four workers spent most the afternoon trying to dry the wet patch at the top of the stretch with leaf blowers.

Several jockeys and management members inspected the area after the second race and determined the course would not be usable Saturday when there were three grass races scheduled, including two stakes: the Omnibus and the Junior Champion.

Both will be run on the main track. The Junior Champion remained at one mile, but the Omnibus was shortened from 1 3/8 miles to 1 1/4 miles.

The race office took grass entries for Sunday's card, anticipating a resolution of the problem by then.

A similar sprinkler problem July 31 also wiped out grass racing.

Environmental regulators fine track

In another water-related issue, the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection levied a $140,000 fine on Monmouth for allegedly discharging untreated waste water into a nearby creek last week.

The problem of runoff has been a long-running issue as the track's storm-water system has a history of overflowing, especially during heavy rain. The runoff spills into the Branchport Creek, which flows into the Shrewsbury River.

Monmouth has taken a number of corrective actions, including replacement of gutters and drains on the backstretch.

* Jockeys Carlos Marquez Jr. (three days) and Janice Blake-Baeza (five days) will both serve suspensions starting Wednesday for careless riding infractions.