10/24/2007 12:00AM

War Monger rallies in Rutgers

EmailOCEANPORT, N.J. - Wednesday might have marked the beginning of the most important race meet in Monmouth Park history, but this hardly was a gala kickoff to the four-day Breeders' Cup meet. With no Breeders' Cup races scheduled until Friday, the track was all but deserted on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.

The main track dried out admirably after a couple of heavy morning showers, however, and Monmouth's turf course stayed dry enough to keep the $100,000 Rutgers University Stakes on the grass. That worked out fine for heavily favored War Monger ($4.80), who rebounded from a fourth-place finish in the Oct.o6 Jamaica Handicap to win impressively on Wednesday.

War Monger had wound up on the lead in the Jamaica, which probably was the wrong trip, but he came from last in the 1 1/16-mile Rutgers. The race turned slightly chaotic at the start, when Pays to Dream stumbled badly, unseating jockey Javier Castellano, whose agent, Mike Kelly, said shortly after that he was fine. Pays to Dream, his reins dangling, charged up toward the lead on the backstretch, putting extra pressure on pacesetting Bujagali, who had no answer for War Monger's late run, and was nipped for second by Pleasant Strike.

"We're thinking he's going to be a nice horse for next year," said Bill Mott, War Monger's trainer.

Kent Desormeaux, who rode the winner to a 1 1/2-length victory, said the turf had give to it, but that War Monger handled the going well.

"It's soft, but the bottom is there," he said.

War Monger was timed in 1:41.82 with the portable turf rail placed 24 feet out into the course.

Monmouth's main track, famous for fast times and carrying speed, seemed not to know this was mid-autumn rather than summer. Wide stretch-runners in dirt races - especially routes - might as well have beat their heads against the wall. And while the dirt slowed slightly during the card, it was fast throughout the day. New Jersey-bred entry-level allowance horses, for example, ran six furlongs in 1:09.66 in race 2.