By Tom LaMarra

Monmouth Park last fall decided to go all in on the return of the MATCH Series, and on May 26 the New Jersey racetrack will host the first of seven series stakes as part of its Memorial Day Weekend celebration.

The first of five races in the 3-Year-Old and Up Long–Dirt Division is the $100,000, grade III Salvator Mile, which will join three other stakes on a strong Saturday program at Monmouth. Track officials this year decided to bundle more stakes outside of the Haskell Invitational card to create more big-event days.

Monmouth, operated by Darby Development on behalf of the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, is the only track in the MATCH Series that has three races in one division. Following the Salvator Mile is the $100,000, grade III Philip H. Iselin Stakes at 1 1/16 miles June 30 and the $150,000, grade III Monmouth Cup at 1 1/8 miles July 29.

The NJTHA, which leases the track from the state, was an integral part of the MATCH Series during its initial five-year run from 1997-2001. At that time, series events in New Jersey were held at Monmouth, Meadowlands, and defunct Garden State Park. Though there was uncertainty for Monmouth heading into 2018, track officials signed on to again be part of MATCH.

“We’re glad to participate in the MATCH Series,” NJTHA President John Forbes said. “There’s a lot going on here, and we’re looking for ways to generate interest in racing.”

The horsemen’s group was at the forefront of a seven-year legal fight that earlier in May resulted in the United States Supreme Court reversing the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which banned sports betting in all but four states. It’s a major development for New Jersey and Monmouth, which plans to begin taking sports wagers as soon as the state legislature passes a regulatory bill, perhaps by early June.

The NJTHA and Darby Development, which is headed by attorney and longtime Thoroughbred owner and breeder Dennis Drazin, have said sports betting is a critical component of a master plan to not only invest in capital improvements at Monmouth but in its racing product. Participation in MATCH is part of the equation, as is stabilization and growth for owners, trainers and breeders.

“There will be opportunities to bring life back to Monmouth Park,” Drazin said. “We have to have a vision to bring people back to the racetrack. Monmouth Park is going to grow, and I think in the next 10 years, you’ll see a renovated Monmouth Park.”

The Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders’ Association of New Jersey is one of four regional organizations offering bonuses to the breeders or certifiers of the leading colt or gelding ($5,000) and filly or mare ($5,000) in the MATCH Series based on accumulated points.

Following the Salvator Mile, Monmouth will have two MATCH Series races on June 17: the $75,000 Mr. Prospector Stakes (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Dirt Division) and the $75,000 Regret Stakes (Filly and Mare Sprint–Dirt Division). The remaining two are the July 29 Wolf Hill Stakes (3-Year-Olds and Up Sprint–Turf Division) and the Aug. 11 Incredible Revenge Stakes (Filly and Mare Sprint–Turf Division).