08/28/2003 11:00PM

Turf stakes flooded with entries


OCEANPORT, N.J. - The Monmouth Park racing office sometimes struggles to fill stakes races. Then there are days like Friday, when entries come pouring in to a point of overflow.

Monmouth offered a pair of $50,000 one-mile turf stakes for Sunday, and both lured an excess of entrants. The Bob Harding attracted 17; the Continental Mile for 2-year-olds pulled 21.

Even with the temporary turf fence down - it had been set at 30 feet - the maximum number of starters for each race is 14.

The Harding marks the return of North East Bound to Monmouth and an opportunity for trainer Bill Perry to gather some positive momentum.

Frustration piled high for Perry as the 2003 season turned into a seemingly endless string of disappointments. Perry bagged his first victory of the year Wednesday when Steve's Escape - his 60th starter in 2003 - took the third race.

North East Bound has been a particular problem this year. In a campaign of stops and starts, the 7-year-old gelding has yet to hit the board in four outings.

In his prime, North East Bound would annihilate this field. He was a star on turf or dirt, scoring stakes wins in 2000 in the Grade 3 Oceanport Handicap at Monmouth and the Grade 2 Meadowlands Cup.

In his finest moment, North East Bound set the pace in the 2000 Breeders' Cup Mile against some of the world's top turf runners before surrendering in the final jump.

Time has taken a toll on North East Bound.

"He's got some infirmities that have caught up with him," Perry said. "He might have lost a step, but right now, he's as good as I've seen him in a long time. We're going to take a shot and see what happens."

North East Bound will need a bounce-back effort following a dismal experience at Saratoga, where jockey Jose Velez Jr. pulled him up in the slop.

"He came upon a racetrack he didn't like while going a mile and an eighth, which I don't think he's ready for," Perry said. "I was under the impression that when those races come off the turf that were scheduled for a mile that they would run seven-eighths of a mile on the main course." It was more than North East Bound could handle.

"The horse had not been out for six months," Perry said. "Combined with him not liking the track, I'm going to throw that one out."

Winners of a race received preference in the Continental Mile, with many trainers leaping at the chance to run juveniles on the grass around two turns.

Many will be on the turf for the first time, giving colts with grass experience a possible advantage.

Neutron has run twice, both times on the turf at Colonial Downs. His latest effort was a maiden score in which he came from last in an eight-horse field going a mile for trainer Rodney Jenkins.