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First horses arrive at Monmouth Park with a spring in their step

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On this brisk and breezy day in April, some of the first race horses began arriving at the Monmouth Park barns to begin their preparation for the 2014 race meet. It’s still hard to tell the backstretch is open. The vast majority of barns look dark and bare. Here and there, however, there is a hint of activity: a trainer’s sign posted on the side of a barn, a horse being brushed, a groom riding a bicycle.

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“Our first batch of horses arrived Sunday,” explained Jane Cibelli, Monmouth Park’s leading trainer for 2012 and 2011 who just arrived and who already had her barn in tip-top shape. “The second lot arrived Monday — they got here right before the snow,” she said with a chuckle. “Today we’ve got in Lou Doctor Lou and Pop Start from Rock Talk Farm.”

Cibelli’s assistant trainer, Robbie Holman, was already in full swing taking care of the horses. “I’m very excited to be here,” Holman said with a smile as he led a tall bay filly off the trailer. “It’s a refreshing change from Florida.”

When asked which other trainers had arrived at the famed New Jersey track Holman replied, “I’m pretty sure Eddie Plesa shipped in and I think Tony Wilson has a few here with the rest coming at the end of the month.”

As the horses settled into their stalls and began to relax and nibble their hay, the topic of conversation moved to some of the changes taking place at Monmouth this year including the hiring of a new track announcer Travis Stone who will replace Larry Collmus, the longtime Monmouth Park race caller who left to call races at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. Stone, age 30, will serve as the voice of Monmouth Park beginning May 10, opening day. He was formerly a race caller for Louisiana Downs. Stone had also called races at Churchill Downs, Suffolk Downs, Calder Race Course, Golden Gate Fields, Lone Star Park, and Sam Houston Race Park. In 2007, Stone called a race at Monmouth Park on "All-Star Announcer" day.

Other notable changes taking place this year include new trainer and owner incentives. Monmouth plans to offer bonuses to owners and trainers for every runner in a non-state-bred race as well as a bonus for owners finishing fifth through last according to information released in January from Monmouth Park.

Specifically, trainers will receive a $300 bonus for horses entered in open company turf and dirt races.

When asked about her thoughts on the trainer incentives, Cibelli said, “For me, the incentives don’t make a difference. It won’t sway my decision to enter a horse. It isn’t going to make me run a horse before I think the horse is absolutely ready to run. The only thing that would be unsettling for me is if other people enter horses that shouldn’t be there and the race overfills and my horses don’t get in because of that.”

The 57-day Monmouth Park meet runs from Saturday, May 10 through Sunday, September 28.

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