OCEANPORT, N.J. – Jane Cibelli knows exactly what it takes to win a training title at Monmouth Park, having accomplished the feat in 2011 and 2012. But that knowledge, says the veteran conditioner, isn’t much of an advantage if the racing fates don’t send a little good fortune your way over the course of the meet.
Cibelli, who has a full barn of 50 horses stabled on the Monmouth Park backstretch, has already given a hint she will be a factor in the trainers’ race, sending out three winners on the opening weekend of racing to top the standings. Nine different trainers won two races over the three-day opening weekend.
So that begs the question: Can she win another title?
Possibly, she said.
Will she? That’s a complicated question that depends on a variety of factors.
“Everything has to go your way,” said Cibelli, who has horses entered in three of the six races when Monmouth Park resumes racing with a Friday twilight card that starts at 5 p.m. “Races you are pointing to have to go when your horses are ready. That’s probably the hardest part of the business right now because it’s difficult keeping horses at their peak and ready. We were very fortunate both years we won the title that the races we pointed for went. We also claimed a lot more horses those two years.
“I think you’ll find at most racetracks – with the exception of guys like Todd Pletcher and Chad Brown, who just have so many horses – that the leading trainer does a lot of claiming. It’s a different game. I’m looking to develop more horses for the long term now. I enjoy that more.”
After clicking with 14 winners from 66 starts at Monmouth Park a year ago, Cibelli followed that with a solid winter in Florida, winning 24 races from 109 starters at Gulfstream.
So she returned to New Jersey with momentum, which was reflected in the first weekend, with two of her three Monmouth winners so far coming in maiden races. She also has a dozen 2-year-olds and expects to add to that total during the summer. That’s generally not conducive to a training title campaign.
“I don’t ever go into a meet thinking about being the leading trainer,” said Cibelli, who went out on her own in 1987, when female trainers were still a rarity. “I’m not going to jam in a horse for $10,000 that is worth $30,000 just to win a race to help me be the leading trainer, because you don’t get any extra money for being leading trainer.
“It’s an honor, obviously, and a notable achievement but at the end of the day you’re trying to run a business and trying to get the best you can out of your horses. So if it happens, it happens.”
Monmouth Park’s condensed meet, and the later start to it due to the Covid-19 pandemic, have also changed the dynamics of the summer for trainers.
“You can’t use this meet to get ready,” said Cibelli. “You have to be ready when you get here.”
In a typical year, few if any of Cibelli’s 2-year-olds would come into the Monmouth meet with a start. But by staying in Florida until the Monmouth Park backstretch opened on June 1 she was able to unveil some of her “babies.”
“I’ve had three 2-year-olds out already, which is unheard of for me,” she said. “Normally I don’t get 2-year-olds out until the middle or end of summer. That’s huge. I’m very happy with that.”
One in particular, a filly named Flight to Shanghai, showed plenty of promise in her debut, finishing second in a Maiden Special Weight race at Gulfstream Park on June 19.
“I very rarely win with first-time starters. It’s by design. I don’t turn the screws on them too early,” she said. “But she ran second and she ran huge. She looks like she will be a good one.
“My approach with 2-year-olds is `if they’re ready, they’re ready.’ They don’t have to set the world on fire at 2 for me. I like to keep them around at three and four and beyond. It’s just how I do things. I’m old school.”
It’s a formula that has served her well. Whether it results in another title this summer remains to be seen.
“Both years I won the title I didn’t set out to win it,” she said. “It just happened. So you never know.”