05/14/2005 12:00AM

Smokume starts meet with win

Bill Denver/Equi-Photo
Chantal Sutherland wins her first U.S. stakes, taking the Decathlon on Saturday aboard Smokume.

OCEANPORT, N.J. - The Monmouth Park season began Saturday on a cool and clear afternoon on the Jersey Shore. Smokume, trained by Hall of Famer Allen Jerkens, won the $65,000 Decathlon Stakes, the featured race on the 11-race card.

Rain, forecast for the area, never materialized and a crowd of 15,293 turned out for the first of 90 dates through Sept. 25.

Smokume ($3.60) swept into contention with a three-wide move on the turn. The 4-year-old Smoke Glacken gelding, ridden by Chantal Sutherland, continued strongly to the wire, beating the late-closing Vinemeister by 1 3/4 lengths with Bold Days third.

The field was reduced to eight with the scratches of Abbondanza, Shake You Down, and Forest Park.

Smokume ran the six furlongs in 1:09.85 and improved his career record to 6 wins in 14 starts.

Smokume was wide throughout the race after a less-than-perfect break.

"He kind of lost his footing coming out of the gate," Sutherland said. "I thought Jose Ferrer" - riding War's Prospect - "would come over and he did. I just kept him outside because he likes to be outside anyway."

It was an important victory for Sutherland, who earned her first stakes in the U.S. A two-time Sovereign Award winner in Canada, Sutherland recently relocated to Belmont Park.

As for her first trip to Monmouth, Sutherland said, "I like it here. It's a very cool place."

"It was a great opening," said Monmouth Park vice president and general manager Bob Kulina. "The weather cooperated, and we had a good crowd. This is what we were hoping for following the Derby weekend. There was a lot of racing in the news and today's crowd and their enthusiasm reflects the excitement of the Triple Crown."

The track opened two weeks earlier than normal. Monmouth, which traditionally starts on Memorial Day weekend, gave up Wednesday cards in the fall to race two additional weekends in the spring.