09/18/2001 11:00PM

Racing starts anew at Meadowlands

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - With the smoldering remains of the World Trade Center visible on the Eastern horizon, The Meadowlands brought racing back to the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area Tuesday night for the first time since the terrorist attacks a week earlier.

A subdued crowd of 4,921 bet $471,321 on track as a part of a total handle of $1,463,127 for the nine-race card.

"There's very little left to be said that hasn't already been said," Bob Kulina, president of the Meadowlands, after a ceremony that included a moment of silence and the singing of "God Bless America" before the first race. "We're just trying to do our one little thing that gets things back to normal. For us, racing is our one little thing."

Few people in the area have not been affected by the attacks. Throughout The Meadowlands on Tuesday night, conversations centered on how friends and family were involved in the events as patrons and employees renewed acquaintances. For many horsemen, the events unfolded right before their eyes.

"I couldn't see the crash, but we noticed the smoke and suddenly word just spread across the whole backside," said exercise rider Cecil Villareal.

"After we heard what happened, it seemed like we all seemed to notice how low the planes were flying and how they sounded so close."

The Meadowlands, which is about 10 miles northwest of the World Trade Center, across the Hudson River, served as a staging area for many of the rescue efforts. Food and shelter was offered for hundreds of evacuees, and the site was a launching point for ambulances and other relief vehicles.

"This was a very busy place right after the attacks," said Bruce Garland, senior vice president of racing. "We had so many tractor-trailers filled with supplies. Volunteers were gathering here. The whole complex really did their part to pitch in."

Heightened security was also evident, although it didn't rise to the level of searching individual fans.

"The whole complex has held several meeting to address the security issue," said Garland. "We'll be reinforcing several of the already-existing policies and beginning some new measures, but there's probably nothing there that our patrons won't be happy to comply with."

Trainer's brother among missing

Trainer Debbie Bodner was directly affected by the World Trade Center attacks. Her younger brother, Thomas Hughes, is among the more than 5,000 missing people after the collapse of the towers. His absence made a victory on Tuesday night by City Judge, one of the horses trained by Bodner, bittersweet.

"He's a painting contractor and was there to check on a job and had sent all his guys out, but he stayed around for a meeting," said Bodner. "I didn't know he was even there when I heard [the towers had been struck]. We've been spending a lot of time with my mother trying to help her keep it together. She's been taking part in the vigils, and everyone has been paying their respects. We just wish we could find something out so that we could get some kind of closure."

For Bodner, her horses have helped her get through the past week.

"Training has helped keep my mind off all of it," she said. "There's just so much TV you can watch, and there's been so many people coming by and offering to help. All the support has really been uplifting. It really did help."

Boiling Springs a go for Friday

The business of serious stakes racing will return Friday night with the Grade 3, $200,000 Boiling Springs Handicap for 3-year-old fillies on the turf. The Grade 3, $150,000 Cliffhanger Handicap was rescheduled to Saturday night.

In the Boiling Springs, Platinum Tiara will look to get back on track after disappointing races this summer at Monmouth. She drew post 3 in an oversubscribed field.

Most of the original nine entered in the Cliff Hanger, a 1 1/16-mile turf race, last week are expected back, including Fourstardave Handicap winner Dr. Kashnikow and Battlefield Stakes winner Ready to Roll. Horses left stranded by the Belmont Breeders' Cup Handicap last weekend could also find an outlet in the Cliff Hanger.

Rolled Stocking figures to benefit from the extra time to get ready for the Cliff Hanger after an impressive allowance win August 23 at Monmouth Park.

"The extra week for the race really helped him out," said trainer Tim Hills.

"He was impressive last out and this is a step up for him, but he's doing great now."