06/03/2006 12:00AM

Trenton highlights first of three turf cards


Grass, at last!

The Meadowlands Racetrack hosts the first of three all-turf cards Monday afternoon. First post is 1:10 p.m. for the eight-race program, topped by the $60,000 Trenton Stakes for 3-year-old fillies.

Gates open at 11 a.m. and grandstand admission is free.

It helps to have a spare turf course available in the ongoing absence of a grass course at Monmouth Park.

Monmouth is installing a new course as part of a $30 million overhaul for when it hosts the 2007 Breeders' Cup.

The course installation fell behind schedule during an exceptionally rainy October and is now scheduled to open for racing on June 24. It will be tested the week of June 12 with horses training over it.

In the interim, The Meadowlands will pick up some of the slack with all-turf cards this Monday as well as the Mondays of June 12 and 19.

"In February, we realized the turf course at Monmouth wouldn't be ready as we headed to Florida to tell horsemen how good we believed our racing would be," said Dennis Dowd, the senior executive vice president for both New Jersey tracks. "We knew we would be approaching stables who had turf horses. We needed to make an accommodation, and the only way we could do that was to run turf races up at The Meadowlands."

The major downside: There is no dirt option in the event of wet weather. The Meadowlands is in the midst of its harness meet and the main track now has its crushed stone-dust surface.

Cancellations, if necessary, will be made at 7 a.m. on race day. Entries are being taken at the Monmouth race office. There will be a 50-minute gap between the fourth and fifth races while the track crew repositions the temporary turf rail.

The featured Trenton, at 1 1/16 miles, drew nine horses.

Stolen Prayer, trained by Eddie Plesa Jr., looks well spotted here as a controlling pace factor. She led gate to wire to take the six-furlong Snurb Stakes at Calder on April 25. Most importantly, she has turf stakes experience at this distance. Stolen Prayer set the pace in Calder's Tropical Park Oaks on New Year's Day and lost by only one length.

Abel Castellano Jr., one of the top jockeys at Calder, was named to ride.

Joe Bravo, the perennial leader in New Jersey and an excellent grass rider, will be aboard Meribel, trained by Christophe Clement. She got up in the final jumps most recently to win a maiden race at Gulfstream Park.

Quite a Bride, trained by Bill Mott, will go for her third straight turf win.