New Jersey has a strong and sentimental connection to this weekend’s Breeders’ Cup festival.
The $31 million, two-day crowning of thoroughbred champions in several divisions is the ultimate horse-racing weekend. It’s where legends are born, legacies forged and Eclipse Award tickets stamped.
The New Jersey link to horse betting’s largest stage has a natural intersection with Monmouth Park in Oceanport. Here are some reasons why.
It’s pure gold, as in Al Gold
Jersey Shore native Al Gold is not only authored Cyberknife’s improbable rise through the 3-year-old thoroughbred ranks, but managed to become the underdog everyone roots for.
Gold’s prize horse will compete in the Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile on Saturday. He was originally projected for the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic, but Gold took a spot in which Cyberknife would have a better chance.
New Jersey horse racing fans have followed Gold’s Cinderella story the last couple of years. Gold became front-and-center news when Cyberknife secured the $1 million Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park in July.
In doing so, his horse set a track record time of 1:46.24 for 1 1/8 miles.
The Jersey boy made good long before Breeders’ Cup
Gold has frequented Monmouth Park for four decades, been a horseplayer for 50 years and owned thoroughbreds since 2004. He still has a strong group of friends and horseplayers around the Oceanport facility. Gold has been considered a pleasant, light-hearted personality for several decades. He names horses with a comic twist, producing runners like Cleon Jones, Meet the Mets and My Italian Rabbi.
But he got serious once. A couple of years back, Gold discovered he had prostate cancer. He underwent a non-invasive procedure to combat the cancer with a device that delivers radiation to the cancer cells without damaging healthy ones.
You know what the name of the device was? Cyberknife.
That’s how the 2022 Haskell winner was named.
Gold made the move to illustrate that prostate cancer does not have to be a death sentence.
Cancer patients would most likely be happy to utilize the device. Gold not only is in remission from cancer, but has a constant reminder via his horse.
A victory in the Dirt Mile would be an excellent capper for Gold. Cyberknife won the Arkansas Derby and the Haskell this year. He added a third in the Pennsylvania Derby behind Taiba and Gold was likely wise to avoid the Classic.
But he’s a threat in the Dirt Mile
Taiba will run in the Breeders’ Cup Classic
Trainer Bob Baffert is warmly-regarded by Monmouth Park officials. He brought American Pharoah here in 2015 right after he’d won the sport’s first Triple Crown in 37 years. American Pharoah prevailed in the Haskell and a record crowd of more than 60,000 came out.
The Hall -of-Fame trainer has won a record nine Haskell triumphs. That list includes the 2020 edition with Authentic, who then captured the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Baffert was here again in 2022, just missing a record 10th Haskell with Taiba, who finished second to Cyberknife after a thrilling stretch duel.
From Monmouth, Baffert took Taiba to the Pennsylvania Derby, where he romped. Cyberknife was third.
Taiba has graduated to the Classic. People who saw him run here will follow his Breeders’ Cup route.
Hot Rod Charlie rides again
Hot Rod has been a sentimental favorite throughout the racing circuit for the last couple of years.
He was the original winner of the 2021 Haskell, but was disqualified for clipping heels with Midnight Bourbon in the stretch. It was a costly penalty of several hundred thousand dollars for his connections.
That usually denotes bad karma.
One would think they’d consider Monmouth Park bad luck and complain about the verdict.
He returned here in 2022, gaining second in the Salvator Mile. Hot Rod has become an adopted son for Monmouth Park fans. They followed him after the Haskell last year, when he went on to win the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby.
They followed him in the $12 million Dubai World Cup, in which he placed second, in March. He even beat Life Is Good, one of the Classic favorites. They have followed him all over the circuit this year.
And on Saturday, they will cheer for him in the $6 million Classic.
The ghost of Ghostzapper
Flightline, heavily favored in the Classic, has created excitement as a generational horse. In his last effort, he notched a sizzling 126 Beyer Speed Figure. That number combines a horse’s time in one race versus the track record and other variables like the track surface (fast, heavy or sloppy). Only one horse in a distance race has ever exceeded Flightline’s dazzling number.
And that is Ghostzapper, who notched a 128 at the Iselin Stakes at Monmouth Park in 2004. Ghostzapper went on to win the Breeders’ Cup that year.
As race-day nears, the Ghostzapper reference increases.
The sprint record, incidentally, is 133, performed by Groovy in 1987.
Monmouth Park once hosted the Breeders’ Cup
The eyes of the entire racing world were right here in 2007. Unfortunately, a horrible two-day rainstorm took the festive air out of this celebratory balloon.
No East Coast facility has hosted the Breeders’ Cup since.
California tracks are considered less risky for bad weather and have a large attendance capacity. Santa Anita has hosted the Cup a record 10 time. Churchill Downs in Kentucky is next with nine.
Monmouth Stakes winner added to the Breeders’ Cup mix
Webslinger, who captured the $500,000 Nownownow Stakes at Monmouth, has been added to Friday’s $1 million Juvenile Turf race.