06/26/2001 11:00PM

Shore track off to wet-fast start

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ELMONT, N.Y. - After four weeks of racing, Monmouth Park, the popular resort course on the Jersey Shore, is off to a promising start.

"The weather hurt us on opening day [May 26] and Father's Day, normally two big days for us," said Bruce Garland, senior vice president for racing of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates Monmouth Park and The Meadowlands. "Last year, in good weather, we had 17,000 people for our Father's Day program. This year, with rain, we drew 11,000. That's a difference of 6,000, and we were off 4,000 people when it rained on opening day.

"Despite the weather, we're up slightly in attendance and up in wagering, too. If we're lucky with weekend weather from here on out, we could have an outstanding season."

This comes after a highly successful 2000 meeting, when a record crowd of more than 40,000 turned out on Haskell Day to see the 3-year-olds.

Good business originates in good racing, and a key element in the mix is purses. Monmouth is offering the highest purses in its history, Garland noted, with a daily average exceeding $300,000. This level was achieved, in part, with state support. New Jersey allocated $18 million for this purpose to the Thoroughbred and Standardbred industries in the state.

Additional assistance could come momentarily, in the form of a bill under consideration by the legislature that would authorize offtrack betting and telephone account wagering. Neither is currently legal in New Jersey, placing the state at a substantial disadvantage to other jurisdictions. If the bill passes, Garland estimates that some OTB facilities would be ready next season, and some account wagering might be in place even earlier.

Monmouth's feature Sunday is the United Nations Handicap, raced for many years at Atlantic City. When that track cut back its live racing, the important grass stakes was rescued by Monmouth and enhanced with a purse of $500,000 in an effort to restore it to its former glory and to tone up the grass sport at Monmouth. Garland credits the track's vice president, Bob Kulina, and its racing secretary, Sean Greely, with numerous other innovative approaches to the racing program.

Operating during the heat of the summer, Monmouth is in the midst of a $12 million energy upgrade. Some of the work has been completed, and there are now more air-conditioned areas from which to view the races in comfort, with additional areas to come. It is a project that has been well received by the public, as indicated by the vigorous figures.

Buster's Daydream can step forward

Saturday's $100,000 Tremont for 2-year-olds, the secondary feature on Belmont Park's Mother Goose program, will be an important test for Buster's Daydream, the Housebuster colt who won the recent Flash Stakes by more than four lengths. His strong performance makes him the center of attention, for if he can confirm that form, he will be a conspicuous figure under national scrutiny at Saratoga.

"He has come up to his race very nicely," trainer Tim Tullock Jr. said. "It's delicate business, too. With a 2-year-old particularly, you don't want to do too much, but you don't want to do too little, either. He helps with his professional approach. He knows when to eat, and he knows when to sleep."

Buster's Daydream is owned by Steven Barbarino of Granby, Conn., who bought him at Keeneland for $38,000.

The colt's sire, Housebuster, was America's champion sprinter in 1990 and 1991. Housebuster was standing at stud in Kentucky when his people received an offer from the Japanese that was too good to be refused. Buster's Daydream is part of his final American crop.

John Velazquez will ride Buster's Daydream in the Tremont. Edgar Prado rode him in the Flash but had a commitment for the Tremont. Buster has natural speed and has raced with the leaders in all three of his starts. He tired in his debut but won the next two with authority.