“And they’re off,” the horse racing phrase that pays, makes its long-awaited comeback Friday and will continue each weekend through September at Monmouth Park.

Live horse racing returns to the storied Oceanport facility, which launches its 76th campaign with no attendance restrictions for its season-opening card at 5 p.m.

There will be six races Friday night.

For the first time in two years,  the track allowed 25% capacity in complying with New Jersey COVID-19 regulations last year, Monmouth is all the way open.

And gamblers are all in for its 53-day, Friday-Sunday meet, which runs until Sept. 26.

Post times are at 5 p.m. Fridays, 12:15 on Sundays, Mondays, and on special Monday cards, like Memorial Day.

The $1 million Haskell Stakes is July 17, with a noon first post.

Garden State gamblers can access the action live at Monmouth Park (exit 105 off the Garden State Parkway). Mobile horse betting is available via 4NJBETS, powered by TVG.

The William Hill-branded sportsbook (home to the first legal wager in NJ sports betting history) provides another entity. Call it enabling the best of many worlds for horse-racing fans who wish to bet on different sports simultaneously.

Yes, players can wager on a filly and the Phillies, as the book provides betting options on most major sports.

Monmouth Park and NJ thoroughbred racing

Monmouth has a rich thoroughbred racing tradition, respected not only a good level of daily racing but for some blockbuster attractions.

They include the Haskell, which brings the focus of the horse-racing world to New Jersey.

Authentic captured this nationally-televised event last year at prohibitive betting odds of 3 -5. However, the triumph became more noteworthy a couple of months later when he snared the Kentucky Derby at 8-1 betting odds, nipping highly-favored Tiz the Law.

It was rare for a Haskell Stakes horse to run in the Kentucky Derby, but COVID-19 had restructured the Triple Crown picture, placing the Haskell in front of the Derby.

The Haskell, which normally runs two months after the Kentucky Derby, features top graduates from the industry’s major races.  Its winners circle sports the last two Triple Crown winners in American Pharoah in 2015 and Justify in 2018.

Maximum Security, disqualified after winning the 2019 Kentucky Derby, captured the Haskell later that season.

Preakness winners who won the Haskell include famed filly Rachel Alexandra in 2009 and Exaggerator in 2016.

The 2021 Haskell undercard is loaded with the Grade I United Nations, the Grade 3 Monmouth Cup, the Grade 3 Molly Pitcher, and the Grade 3 WinStar Matchmaker Stakes.

Those familiar with Monmouth are aware Father’s Day (June 20 this year) traditionally draws the second-biggest crowd of the year behind Haskell Day.

The 2021 calendar also features the NJ Thoroughbred Festival, all Jersey-bred races, on Aug. 29

A closer look at Monmouth Park trainers

Three Hall of Fame trainers have divisions at Monmouth this year,  Steve Asmussen, Todd Pletcher, and Jerry Hollendorfer. Asmussen and Pletcher have not been here for a while.

They will be showcased along with Kelly Breen, who captured the training title last year. It was the third Monmouth training title for the 52-year-old Breen, a New Jersey native.

“We have a good variety of horses, from $5,000 claimers to multiple-graded stakes winners,” he said.” There are probably guys with more well-rounded stables, maybe with more claimers, guys with bigger stables. But we have 40 horses that are ready to run. We’ll just try to put them in the right spots.”

Breen’s quest for a title repeat starts Friday when he sends out It’s A Gamble in the $100,000 Jersey Derby, which is a mile on the grass.

He then has Tracy Ann’s Legacy set to go in Sunday’s feature, the $75,000 Politely Stakes.

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What is the status of fixed odds wagering?

A major administrative innovation, fixed odds wagering, is en route to a national debut at Monmouth Park.

Initially, it will only affect on-track bettors but may eventually work into the online-betting scenario. Fixed Odds betting may be available for the Haskell.

For those unfamiliar with fixed odds wagering, it will allow gamblers to retain the odds at the time of their bet. This is different from pari-mutuel wagering, where odds are not finalized until betting is completed.

Fixed odds are extremely popular in Australia and Europe.

Australia-based BetMakers Technology Group would deliver and manage Fixed Odds wagering at Monmouth Park.  The company entered an exclusive 10-year agreement with New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association and Darby Development, LLC, last year.

Though odds will continue to change as pari-mutuel pools dictate, bettors have the option of locking into odds at the time of their bet under the fixed-odds format.

The state assembly already approved this feature 75-0, thus it’s just a matter of time before it passes the state senate and is signed by Gov. Phil Murphy.

Dennis Drazin, CEO, and Chairman of Darby Development, LLC, the operators of Monmouth Park, commented via press release:

“This is an exciting new wagering opportunity for our fans and we’re grateful for the support from our legislators and Governor Murphy, who continue to ensure the success of Thoroughbred racing in the state,” said Drazin. “Our hope is that we can be up and running with fixed odds wagering in time for the TVG.com Haskell Stakes on July 17,  or sooner if possible.”

More on 2021 Monmouth Park season

So no matter if and when fixed odds are introduced this year, bettors can decide whether to wager at the track or from home.

It’s a good idea to visit the Monmouth Park website to see the latest entries and scratches. Rainy weekend weather like this one forecasted for this weekend may cause a few lineup changes.

And those who make the trip, admission and parking are free, except on Haskell Day.

Reserved seats are $5 while box seats are $8 per person

And for those looking to enjoy some Nj sports wagering, here are the William Hill sportsbook hours of operation:

  • Monday-Thursday: 10 a.m.-12 a.m.
  • Friday: 10 a.m.-1 a.m.
  • Saturday: 9 a.m.-1 a.m.
  • Sunday: 9 a.m.-12 a.m.

AP Photo/Seth Wenig

About

Dave Bontempo, a multiple national award-winning boxing commentator and writer, authors NFL betting columns for the Press of Atlantic City and IGaming Player, among others.