Monmouth Park Sees Steep Drop in Handle for Haskell Card as Heat Forces Delays and Cancellations

Posted on: July 23, 2019, 06:39h. 

Last updated on: July 23, 2019, 06:39h.

Thanks to the weather, Monmouth Park saw its handle for Saturday’s Haskell Invitational card drop by more than a third from last year.

Derby Development CEO Dennis Drazin, who oversees Monmouth Park, explains to reporters Saturday the reason for rescheduling the track’s stakes races for later in the day.  (Image: Steven Falk/Asbury Park Press)

Bettors wagered just $8.6 million on the races at the New Jersey track, down from $13.4 million in 2018.

A significant reason for the decline was the track’s decision to suspend racing Saturday for several hours due to the high afternoon temperatures. After completing the first two races, the remaining non-stakes races were canceled and the six stakes races on the card were rescheduled until Saturday evening.

As a result, the Haskell ran more than two hours later than its scheduled post time, and it ended up not being broadcast nationally by NBC Sports Network. Monmouth Park also took bets on just eight races as opposed to the full 14-race card it held last year.

Several horses were also scratched in the delayed races. None was more affected than the Grade III Watchmaker Stakes. Four scratches left the race with just three entries and severely limited betting options for the race.

Numerous other tracks, most notably Saratoga Race Course, did not race at all on Saturday as most of the eastern United States sweltered. Temperatures reached the high 90s with heat indices well into the triple digits.

Without the competition, Dennis Drazin, CEO of Monmouth owner Darby Development, told the Asbury Park Press he thought they could approach the record handle of $20 million, set four years ago when Triple Crown winner American Pharoah highlighted the Haskell field.

Concerns for Safety

The decision to push back the stakes races came a day after PETA urged track officials not to race at all because of the heat.

On Saturday, after making the decision to delay, Drazin discussed his rationale with reporters. Foremost on his mind was the spike in racing deaths that occurred at Santa Anita earlier this year and the increased scrutiny that’s placed on the sport.

God forbid that a horse broke down for another reason other than the heat, we felt that there could be a national crisis created by it,” he said. “It just wasn’t justified taking the risk.”

In addition, the state of New Jersey earlier this year agreed to subsidize the state’s tracks by $100 million over a five-year period starting this year. The state’s tracks will use that money to bolster purses for its races and make them more competitive against tracks elsewhere.

“We didn’t want to gamble that there were concerns that if a horse broke down, that could somehow impact whether or not we’d get future funds,” Drazin added.

Haskell Handle Still Up

Even with the delay, the handle for the main event – the Grade I Haskell Invitational – still increased over last year.

Last year’s Haskell garnered nearly $3.3 million in wagers. On Saturday, despite having one less horse than last year, Monmouth Park reported nearly $4 million in bets on the race.

The main reason for the increase was the presence of Maximum Security, the horse who made headlines for getting disqualified from winning the Kentucky Derby. Trained by Jason Servis, whose racing operation is based at the track, Maximum Security went off as a less than even-money favorite and ended up beating Mucho Gusto by a length-and-a-quarter.