08/30/2002 11:00PM

Racing under lights - and, now, sun


The Meadowlands, which for 25 years has almost exclusively conducted night racing at its Thoroughbred meet, breaks from tradition when the 62-day meet opens on Monday in East Rutherford, N.J.

Seventeen day programs, including five Mondays and 11 Tuesdays, are scheduled. The other day card is this Thursday. The 45 evening programs begin at 7:30 p.m.

With Mondays and Tuesdays generally dark days at Belmont Park in New York, The Meadowlands could be in a good position to capitalize on the absence of that popular simulcast signal.

"Those afternoon cards on Monday and Tuesdays will maximize our simulcasting exposure," said Bob Kulina, vice president of Thoroughbred racing for the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates The Meadowlands and Monmouth Park. "We'll offer one of the top signals in the nation on these days and there should be a lot of interest in our product."

As has been the custom in past years, Monday's Labor Day card has a post of 1:10 p.m. The opening-day feature is the $100,000 Thomas Edison Stakes.

The stakes program, which this year is worth more than $2.8 million and includes five graded stakes, usually lures a good number of New York trainers across the Hudson River.

The graded stakes schedule is highlighted by the $350,00 Pegasus Handicap, a Grade 2 stakes for 3-year-olds on Sept. 27, and the $400,000 Meadowlands Cup, a Grade 2 race for older horses on Oct. 4. The rescheduling of the Pegasus, held last year on Oct. 19 for a purse of $250,000, better accommodates horsemen who want to run back in the Breeders' Cup Classic on Oct. 26 at Arlington Park.

The other graded events are Friday's $200,000 Boiling Springs Handicap (Grade 3); the $150,000 Violet Handicap (Grade 3) on Sept. 20; and the Grade 3 Cliff Hanger Handicap, a $150,000 race scheduled for Oct. 11.

There also are 29 listed stakes, 27 of which carry a $50,000 purse.

Julian Pimentel, who led the jockey standings at the 2001 meet by riding 57 winners, will be back to defend his title, but this time without the benefit of the five-pound weight allowance he had last year as an apprentice.

The early favorite to win The Meadowlands jockey title is Eibar Coa, who will have won his second consecutive Monmouth Park title when the meet closes on Sunday.

In 2001, The Meadowlands conducted 44 days of racing and had daily average purses of $368,559, a record for the track. Kulina said he expects average daily purses to run about $210,000 at this meet, which is scheduled to run 18 days longer than last year.