Meet ends with declines in handle, attendance OCEANPORT – Monmouth Park closed out its 2006 racing season Sunday with declines in handle and attendance, offset by bright spots such as the highest purses in track history, an increase of more than $1 million in total betting on New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival Day, the opening of a new turf course, and the seventh consecutive year with attendance of more than 40,000 on Haskell Invitational Day. Monmouth lost the most number of racing days ever, with the scheduled 91-day meet whittled down to 87 programs (even with make-up dates). A total of five programs were canceled – one due to extreme heat, one to rain for the June 12 turf program at the Meadowlands, one to rain and wind, and two to the unprecedented state government budget shutdown. Total daily handle declined 1.6 percent with a daily average of $2,354,237. On-track daily handle on Monmouth races was down 10 percent, a daily average of $580,824. Wagering in the building on both live and simulcast racing declined 6.5 percent to a daily average of $1,205,411. Average daily attendance slipped 7.5 percent from 2005, averaging 8,400 per day. The on-track declines were due in great part to the expansion of telephone and account wagering in the state. Handle figures that were once incorporated into Monmouth totals are now considered transmission wagering. Total wagering from all sources averaged $3,549,451, a decline of 2.5 percent from last year. Turf racing, always an important factor in total handle, was not conducted for the first six weeks of the 2006 meeting. The new turf course did not open until June 18. During the meeting, Monmouth offered its highest purse structure in history. Overnight purses averaged $325,053 per day (an increase of 5.6 percent over the 2005 figure), and total purses – including stakes races – of $364,678 a day, a gain of 2.5 percent over last year. “With online and account wagering moving out of its infancy, a decrease in on-track handle was anticipated and expected,” said Dennis Dowd, senior vice president of racing for the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. “We were pleased to see our total handle off a very slight number as wagering in New Jersey transforms and will continue to transform with the advent of OTBs next year. “We believe that in the long run, the combination of online and account wagering coupled with OTBs and on-track handle will lead to overall increases in total handle that will provide benefits across the board to everyone involved,” he said. Dowd cited the new grass course – the venue for one of the strongest runnings ever of the United Nations Stakes (G1) at Monmouth soon after it opened in late June – as a major positive of the year. “We couldn’t be more pleased with the new turf course,” he said. “All those involved in bringing it to fruition deserve a lot of credit, and their hard work will continue to pay dividends to the Sports Authority for years to come. Not only was it a great success, but its safety (and the safety of the main track) is something that management and horsemen can be very proud of.” Dowd said that despite the shortfall in numbers, several aspects of the meeting have created a positive outlook for next year – Monmouth’s Breeders’ Cup season – and beyond. “While the numbers may not reflect an air of optimism,” he said, “it certainly exists at Monmouth Park. Record purses are always something to smile about, and it continues a five-year trend of offering increased purses annually. “The Breeders’ Cup and its impact are already being felt and as we close this year’s season and look forward to 2007, Breeders’ Cup Day and beyond, there is a bright future for racing at Monmouth.” Once again, Haskell Day on Aug. 6 was the highlight of the season at Monmouth. The day’s crowd of 42,318 was the fifth largest in track history, and the seventh straight year the event has attracted more than 40,000 fans. Bluegrass Cat won the $1 million Haskell, giving trainer Todd Pletcher his first victory in the race. The fourth annual New Jersey Thoroughbred Festival Day was the most successful ever, with a total of $3,971,782 wagered on the day. That was an increase of more than $1 million over the 2005 total of $2,961,900. Killer B’s – Broome, Breen, Bravo – win titles again For owner Ed Broome, trainer Kelly Breen and jockey Joe Bravo, the 2006 Monmouth Park season was a repeat of 2005. All three repeated as the leaders, with Bravo taking his record 12th riding title, Broome his third owner title and Breen his second training crown. Four horses tied with four wins for leading runner at the meet. Through Friday’s racing, Broome had 17 winners to lead all the owners, with Patricia Generazio second with 14 and Stronach Stables third with 13. Richard Malouf, whose horses are trained by Broome, had the highest winning percentage of any owner, with 10 wins, five seconds and five thirds from 25 starters, a winning percentage of 40 percent, and an in-the-money record of 80 percent. Broome shared last year’s title with 13 wins, tied with Peter Kazamias and Michael Gill. Breen, who won his first training title last year when he saddled 38 winners, had already topped that mark through Friday, with 40 winners from 160 starters, a 25 percent win average. The New Jersey native (born in Perth Amboy) went out on his own in 2000 after working as an assistant to Ben Perkins Sr. Bruce Levine, who was second last year with 26 wins, had 30 to be runner-up again. Eddie Broome was third with 28. Bravo has had a lock on Monmouth’s riding title for most of two decades and was the runaway leader through Friday with 124 wins. Jose Lezcano was second with 95, and Chuck Lopez third with 85. Bravo, a native of Long Branch, has now won four straight riding crowns. Injuries in 2001 and 2002 kept him on the ground, but he had taken the titles in 1999 and 2000. Bravo won six straight riding titles from 1991 through 1996.