Horse racing is back for New Jersey. Or at least it seemed that way on Saturday.
Records were set for the Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park, a fitting occurrence for the biggest day of the year for horse racing in the Garden State. And the race did not disappoint.
With a starting gate featuring Kentucky Derby winner Mage, Bob Baffert’s Arabian Knight and Belmont Stakes contender Tapit Trice, it was 57-year-old jockey Mike Smith riding Geaux Rocket Ride to victory and a guaranteed spot in the Breeders’ Cup Classic.
What’s more, on-track and off-track NJ horse betting combined for over $21 million for the Haskell Stakes – a record for the 153-year-old racetrack.
Hall of Famers Richard Mandella and Mike Smith team up to win the (GI) 🏆 https://t.co/nBYFHiPrdh Haskell Stakes at @MonmouthPark with #1 GEAUX ROCKET RIDE ($27.40) for @PinOakStud. The son of Candy Ride earns a spot in the @BreedersCup Classic. #WinAndYoureIn @LanesEndFarms. pic.twitter.com/49t3VYDCyg
— TVG (@TVG) July 22, 2023
2023 Haskell Stakes sets NJ horse betting record
Drawing a crowd proved relatively problematic over the past few years for the Haskell Stakes.
In 2020, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic prevented anyone from attending the race. Outside of that, since 2019, the average attendance hovered below 23,000. On Saturday, that trend was broken, as a crowd of 35,286 packed Monmouth Park for the event’s biggest crowd since 2018 – and over 13,000 more than 2022.
While inspiring, that is only part of the story. For the Haskell Stakes, bettors laid down $1,717,876 at the track and another $19,641,766 off-track. That total of $21,359,642 represents the Stakes’ biggest betting day in history, beating out the 2020 record (with no attendance and minimal on-track betting) by just over $880,000.
Certainly, 2020 likely would still hold the record if not for COVID-19. But also consider 2015, when a track-record 60,983 people jammed Monmouth Park to see American Pharoah, fresh off the Triple Crown. That year, total betting handle amounted to just over $20 million.
It should be noted that Monmouth Park’s biggest betting day will not be broken anytime soon: the 2007 Breeders’ Cup that featured $12 million on-track handle alone – and roughly $111 million in total.
|Year||Attendance||On-Track Handle||Off-Track Handle||Total Handle|
|*No crowd due to COVID-19|
Even without betting records, Haskell Stakes shined
What wasn’t there to like about the 2023 Haskell Stakes?
Even before Saturday’s event, it was bound to entertain. Mage, sired by 2018 Haskell winner Good Magic, was coming in with a Kentucky Derby win, a runner-up finish at the Belmont Stakes and a third-place showing at the Preakness Stakes. Arabian Knight was vying to give legendary trainer Bob Baffert his 10th Haskell Stakes victory. Tapit Trice was coming off a third-place finish at the Belmont and was primed to pick up his fifth win in eight races.
Yet it was Geaux Rocket Ride that stole the show, recording his third victory in four starts. It was 57-year-old jockey Mike Smith, aka Big Money Mike, that helped guide Geaux Rocket Ride past Arabian Knight on the final turn and holding off Mage for the narrow victory.
Hall of Fame trainer Richard Mandella hadn’t sent a horse from the West Coast to the Haskell Stakes in 23 years. He did so with Geaux Rocket Ride. Yet the result was the same as it was in 2000: a victory.
Perhaps to the enjoyment of many (particularly those betting on the 12-1 eventual winner), Geaux Rocket Ride’s win sent Baffert away without a win. In fact, it was the first time in two decades that Baffert entered a horse in the Haskell and didn’t finish in the top two. But with the third-place showing, Baffert now has nine victories, six seconds and two third-place finishes in 17 starts at the Haskell Stakes.
Yet the day belonged to Geaux Rocket Ride. To Big Money Mike. To Richard Mandella. And to Monmouth Park. The bar is set. Let’s see what 2024 brings.