06/02/2002 11:00PM

This year, Werner decides to stay for a while

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OCEANPORT, N.J. - Trainer Ronny Werner said that last year's Grade 1 Haskell Invitational, in which his Touch Tone was narrowly beaten by eventual Horse of the Year Point Given, was the most exciting race he has ever been involved in. Before and after the race, Werner said that he liked his first visit to the Jersey Shore so much that he might decide to bring a stable here.

Werner has done just that this summer, expanding his operations to include a string of 26 horses at Monmouth. Werner already has stables at Lone Star Park and Churchill Downs, and will return to Saratoga for a second summer after Churchill closes. Although Werner has yet to win at Monmouth in five starts, he said he is optimistic about a successful season here.

"I'm feeling Monmouth out a little bit," Werner said from his home in Texas. "I have to see where my horses are going to fit. It's pretty tough at Monmouth and so far we've been beaten pretty good. But I hope to get that turned around soon."

Werner's main focus is on 2-year-olds, and he has enjoyed great success at Keeneland and Churchill Downs with this division. He said that the main reason he decided last winter to open a stable at Monmouth was because he needed another spot to take his 2-year-olds. All of Werner's starters this meet have exited races at Lone Star, but Werner said he also has some horses here from Kentucky.

Werner said that his main owner, Tom Durant, who owns Touch Tone, liked his stay here last year for the Haskell and was instrumental in encouraging Werner to open a stable at Monmouth.

"He really liked the way he was treated and liked the racetrack," Werner said. "He was prodding me a little bit to go with a stable this year."

Werner said he enjoys going to new tracks every year and is constantly evaluating meets and plotting future plans. Since switching from Quarter Horse training to Thoroughbreds, Werner has made a quick impact at some of the country's best tracks - Churchill Downs, Keeneland, and Saratoga.

"I want to keep a little chip on my shoulder at all the tracks I'm at," he said. "It's a doubting game and I have to prove myself wherever I go. I'm really geared up for Monmouth."

Both Olivers are on a roll

The horses coming out of Barn 8 are hot. The husband-wife combo of Phil and Vicki Oliver are off to a scorching start, as Phil has hit for three wins, all on the turf, and Vicki already has two stakes scores - the $50,000 Revidere and $50,000 Monmouth Beach Stakes.

"It's definitely the best start we've had at Monmouth," Phil Oliver said. "Our horses ran good at Keeneland before this and the timing has been great for them to come here and start firing."

Phil Oliver is 3-2-2 in 10 starts through Sunday, and each winner had run well at Keeneland before scoring here. Vicki Oliver has two wins in eight starts, as she saddled 3-year-old filly Once Around to a win on the turf in the Revidere and 4-year-old Southern Fiction to the Monmouth Beach victory.

The standouts in the barn, besides the stakes winners, are Touring England and First Lieutenant. Touring England was fourth in the Grade 3 Jersey Derby on Memorial Day and First Lieutenant, second in the Grade 2 Iselin here last year, is prepping for another summer campaign.

A big negative for the stable, though, is the meet-ending injury of Joe Bravo. Bravo rode four of the Olivers' five winners.

"Joe fit our horses the best," Vicki Oliver said.

Kimmel comes out firing on all cylinders

Trainer John Kimmel also has been hot. Of Kimmel's 14 starters at the meet, 13 have been in the money. Kimmel is in third in the trainers' standings with four wins, behind leading trainer Eddie Broome, who has six wins. Most of Kimmel's horses stabled here are nearly as good as those of his main string at Belmont. He has some very high-priced maidens and 2-year-olds.

"John used to have his main stable here and he knows how to fit his horses very well here," said Brian Ange, who oversees the Kimmel barn at Monmouth. "We've been on a roll and it has just snowballed since. We've got four or five nice 2-year-olds coming around in another month or so."

Cruz returns from suspension

Carlos Cruz, who had one win in nine starts opening weekend, will resume riding Wednesday after serving a suspension dating from last summer. Cruz will be riding in his second full meet at Monmouth since leaving Philadelphia Park as one of the leading jockeys there. He recorded six wins last year in 89 starts here.

Danny Mellul, Cruz's agent, said the jockey will be riding first-call for trainer Dennis Manning.

Max's Pal tries to regain old form

Thursday's seventh race, a $45,000 money allowance for 3-year-olds and up, drew a competitive field of seven.

Max's Pal's last win came on June 23 of last year in the Longfellow Stakes here, but a return to Monmouth, where he has three wins in four starts, should benefit the 5-year-old stakes winner. Oro de Mexico and Bobby's Buckaroo should offer the stiffest competition to Max's Pal.