Saturday’s 54th running of the Haskell Stakes is more than a $1 million, Grade I showcase of the nation’s top 3-year-old thoroughbreds at Monmouth Park.
It is more than the centerpiece of the racing season at the Oceanport facility.
Several Haskell events have been noteworthy for what’s going on around them. That means innovation, unusual twists, and developments that impact the thoroughbred-racing world.
Like recent Haskell’s, this year’s race is shaping up to be a memorable one. And it will likely include some NJ horse betting history.
So it only makes sense to include it to the list of five-plus memorable Haskell Stakes moments. After all, come Saturday night, this year’s race will be added to the history book.
1. Ready to make history: Haskell and fixed-odds wagering
The upcoming Haskell features the likely innovation of fixed-odds wagering. Bettors will be able to lock in odds at some betting machines and with a teller prior to post time.
This is a separate wagering pool and is different from the pari-mutuel one that guides horse-racing events. With pari-mutuel pools, odds change right up until post time, even during the race if last-second wagers have not been tabulated immediately.
Fixed odds may be beneficial to some big bettors who shop early, just as gamblers do with NJ sports betting.
In the pari-mutuel world, a gambler may bet $1,000 on a horse that’s 2-1, hoping for a profit of $2,000. If that horse suddenly attracts late wagers, its odds could shrink to even money at post time. And the profit would be $1,000. That gambler has lost $1,000 simply with bad timing and has been stuck with odds he/she may not have wagered upon in the first place.
Horse racing needs to accommodate these big players. This is a major first step. A second would be to reduce its takeout percentage from the 25%-30% seen in some trifecta-wagering pools to the 15% range.
This philosophy has been applied to areas like Pick 6 wagering (selecting the winners of six straight races) and generated big money. Most other sports have a vig of no more than 10%.
Big picture: fixed-odds wagering will start slowly, at some machines and only for some races. It may be for the Haskell only on Saturday, this is yet to be determined.
But long term?
This will ultimately be available in all forms of wagering, including online bets via 4NJBETS, powered by TVG. It may take time, even a lot of time, but that will be the finish line.
1A. No Bob Baffert appearance this weekend
Bob Baffert, the czar of the Haskell, who has an all-time mark of nine triumphs here, did not enter Medina Spirit, the winner of the Kentucky Derby. Medina Spirit may eventually forfeit that victory to second-place Mandaloun after failing a post-Derby drug test.
Baffert is not welcome in Kentucky and in New York, where he has filed litigation to overturn a ban against him.
But he was welcomed in New Jersey and is a friend to Monmouth Park, having generated an all-time record of 60,983 fans to see his horse American Pharoah win the 2015 Haskell.
Baffert said this race came up too quickly for Medina Spirit, who finished third in this year’s Preakness.
Mandaloun, meanwhile, is entered in the Haskell, along with Hot Rod Charlie, second in the Belmont Stakes and Midnight Bourbon, second in the Preakness. It’s a rare feat to have the runners-up of all three Triple Crown events in one race.
2. July 18, 2020 – Authentic and the COVID-19 crush
The pandemic postponed the 2020 Kentucky Derby until September. So, the Haskell in July preceded the Derby. Amid these conditions, Authentic prevailed in a tight battle with NY Traffic to capture the 2020 Haskell.
What made the victory more significant?
Authentic then went on to win the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders Cup Classic, giving more “Authenticity” to the Haskell. This three-race sweep for the eventual Horse-of-the-Year provided a $1 million bonus.
3. July 20, 2019 – Weather or not, Maximum Security wins delayed Haskell
A heat index reaching 107 degrees caused track officials to order a 4-and-1/2-hour delay after the running of the first two races on the 14-race card.
Animal rights activists had also been lobbying to have the entire card canceled before the weekend. Monmouth Park has no lights, thus there was no option for a race under a cooler temperature, say at 11 p.m.
So, the Haskell went off at 8:11 p.m., 2 hours and 24 minutes after the scheduled start. Maximum Security, who had suffered a highly controversial disqualification at the Kentucky Derby for alleged interference, prevailed in this race. But he still had to survive a steward’s inquiry after racing in close quarters with King for a Day.
The two winners were Monmouth Park, which did not have to cancel its biggest race of the season, and the connections for Maximum Security, who averted an injustice.
Maximum Security won an Eclipse Award as the top horse in the country for 2019.
4. Victory laps with Rachel Alexandra and American Pharoah
These were coronation-type performances, the first national appearance for horses who had notched monstrous victories.
The first takes us back to Aug. 2, 2009. Rachel Alexandra had become the first filly to win the Preakness Stakes in 85 years and America had fallen in love with her. The Haskell bettors made her a prohibitive 1-5 favorite. Rachel Alexandra toyed with the Haskell field and kept alive a perfect season that would end 8-for-8.
The other victory lap takes us back to Aug. 2, 2015.
American Pharoah had just become the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years. So, when Baffert brought American Pharoah to Monmouth Park, a record 60,983 fans turned out. He went off 1-9 and prevailed easily in a hand ride.
5. July 31, 2016 – The rubber match, Exaggerator tops Nyquist
What more could you want from the 2016 Haskell?
Winners of two recent Triple Crown races went head-to-head at Monmouth Park. This elevated worldwide interest in the Haskell as the top two horses in the country locked horns.
Nyquist had captured the Kentucky Derby, holding off Exaggerator, in early May on a fast track. Two weeks later at the Preakness Stakes, Exaggerator had turned the tables, overtaking Nyquist on a sloppy surface.
It was sloppy again for the rubber match. Bad news for Nyquist. No exaggeration.
Exaggerator did it again. He prevailed at 5-2 and favored Nyquist, at even-money, finished fourth.