It’s old versus new.

One meet added four days to its meet, the other took four days off a week.

Saratoga starts its 142nd racing meet in six days and it will be interesting to see which model will win out.

Monmouth is halfway through its major experiment of cutting back its racing days. It’s as if Monmouth put a tooth under their pillow only to find a gold brick resting there in the morning.

According to a story in The Blood-Horse, average attendance is 10,572 and on-track handle is $752,718 — that’s about $72 per person. That’s not entirely impressive per cap, but total handle is up 118 percent to $7,672,255.
“Everyone at the Sports Authority had high hopes for this bold experiment,” said Dennis R. Robinson, president and CEO of the New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority. “To say at the midway point that this meet has been a success is an understatement. We’re cautiously optimistic that the second half of the Elite Summer Meet will continue to exceed all expectations.”

For the following seven weeks, Monmouth will be competing with Saratoga for the betting dollar. As it stands, the track by the shore had an edge: it has got a beefed up racing product with no major competition. Saratoga, now, is major competition.

Saratoga’s first weekend, which kicks off on Friday, July 23, has the Schuylerville, the Betfair TVG Coaching Club American Oaks and the Sanford. The following weekend will have the Diana, the Jim Dandy, the Ruffian and the Fourstardave.

Saratoga’s second weekend butts up against Monmouth’s $1 million Haskell Invitational, which, given its convenient four-week spacing, marks itself as a more lucrative prep for the Travers than the $500,000 Jim Dandy. More clams for everyone.

Monmouth plans to use the 2009 Horse of the Year, Rachel Alexandra, on July 24, to steal away attention from Saratoga’s first-of-seven Saturdays in the Lady’s Secret Stakes.

I’m curious to see just how much that $7 million bet on Monmouth gets slashed when Saratoga opens its gates. It’s like a pie: There’s only so many slices and I don’t see enough betting dollars around to keep Monmouth’s roller coaster turning corkscrews.

Saratoga’s handle is monstrous and its per cap betting is always in the neighborhood of $150 on-track. But when it matters — on the weekends — is where we’ll see which model rules. Will people tune into Monmouth’s stakes-heavy weekend like the seven it has carded for Sunday, August 1? Or will Saratoga’s traditional card of two strong stakes, allowance races and claiming races win out?

If Monmouth takes a significant betting dollar on the weekends then that is proof that the product on the track matters. That will prove that horse players (some, not all) still want to put their money on the best athletes in the sport.

For my money, that’s where I go because 1. I don’t have much and 2. It’s more exciting than nickel claimers. It just is.

I’m just as excited to see how both will fare against one another. For decades it’s been the same old thing. Now it looks like Monmouth has been in the gym developing this beautiful body in secret. Monmouth is making heads turn now, no doubt about that, a horse racing ugly duckling story.

No matter the outcome or the victor, the winner is the game of horse racing. Summer 2010 could be the best summer of racing any fan or horse player has seen in a long, long time.

The Belmont Stakes winner, Drosselmeyer, is out, but Super Saver and Lookin’ At Lucky are primed to meet in the Haskell. Rachel Alexandra returns to the scene of her smashing Haskell victory from a year ago. Zenyatta still makes monster strides out west and Quality Road looms a tremendous threat. Mine That Bird will look to reclaim some of that luster from a year ago. Like a good tomato or watermelon, summer time brings with it great seasonal varietals.

Monmouth looks pretty good these days. We’ll soon see whose model reigns supreme.

Still, Saratoga is Saratoga and even though it gained a few pounds to the tune of those four racing days, the jury is out as to whether it’s fat or muscle.

Brendan O’Meara blogs about horse racing here at HRI and at The Carryover. He also blogs about narrative nonfiction and his book project “Six Weeks in Saratoga” at The Blog Itself. His Web site is http://www.brendanomeara.com.