05/18/2010 11:00PM

Top jocks, big fields for opening card


OCEANPORT, N.J. - Here comes the money.

Monmouth Park kicks off its 50-day summer meet Saturday with a 13-race card worth a combined $812,000.

Monmouth will average $1 million for the season that runs through Labor Day, more than tripling last year's purses.

While the meet attracted wide interest from trainers across the nation, the first card is largely dominated by familiar Monmouth barns. Trainers Terri Pompay and Rick Dutrow lead the way, each sending out five runners on the opening-day card. The enhanced money had a more immediate impact on the jockey colony, attracting high-profile riders Garrett Gomez and John Velazquez.

Gomez will be very busy Saturday, with mounts in all 13 races. Velazquez is slated to ride 10.

One of the goals in pumping up the money was to increase field size. The initial results are positive with the opening-day races averaging 10.2 runners.

All stakes, including overnights, are now worth a minimum of $100,000. The new season launches with a pair: the Decathlon at six furlongs and the Elkwood at 1 1/16 miles on the grass.

Kiss the Kid, a longtime popular figure at Monmouth, is one of the top contenders in the Elkwood.

Now 7, Kiss the Kid missed by a neck in the off-the-turf Oceanport Stakes on last year's Haskell Day undercard. He suffered another tough-luck loss in the fall, missing by a neck in the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup which, like the Oceanport, was run in the slop.

He closed out the year finishing 10th in the Clark Handicap at Churchill Downs.

A longtime mainstay in owner-trainer Amy Tarrant's barn, Kiss the Kid is winless in four outings this year. Although no match for Quality Road in the Donn Handicap at Gulfstream Park, Kiss the Kid hit the board in his other three starts. He most recently finished second in the Ben Ali at Keeneland, his first effort on a synthetic track.

Tarrant's long-range goals for Kiss the Kid are return appearances at Monmouth in the Oceanport and the Grade 3 Red Bank Stakes on the Labor Day weekend, a race in which he finished fifth last year, beaten less than two lengths.

His last race was April 18, so Tarrant decided the Elkwood was a nice fit in the schedule.

"This was a spur-of-the-moment call," Tarrant said. "When I looked at how far out those other races were, I made the decision. He's feeling really great. He's in great shape. I'm very, very happy with him."