Monmouth Park celebrated its 50th annual $1 million Betfair.com Haskell Invitational with warm weather, an excited crowd and photo-finish races.
The Haskell, which took place on July 30, is Monmouth Park’s biggest race day of the season, and the park enjoyed a day full of great races and atmosphere. Monmouth Park in Oceanport is one of New Jersey’s most famous horse racetracks.
There were nearly 15 races that took place on Haskell Day, and fans were not disappointed in any of the action throughout the day.
“I got dragged here with my husband,” Cheryl Kingston said. “I know absolutely nothing about horse racing or any of this stuff, but I must admit, a lot of these races were really exciting. I enjoyed it a lot.”
Kingston came to Monmouth Park with her husband, Michael. She claims to have enjoyed the day more than her husband did.
“I don’t think my husband did too well today,” she said. “While I’m jumping up and down for all these close finishes, he was sitting there cursing up a storm. I guess he lost a lot of money today. Hopefully, he took it out of his account.”
A lot of the races ended in photo finishes, including the Haskell Invitational race itself. The $1 million race is the first race in the Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” series, in which the winner of the race gets an automatic bid into this year’s Breeders’ Cup Nov. 3-4 in Del Mar, California.
This year’s Haskell competitors included a mix of successful and promising horses. Runners included local favorite Irish War Cry, whose owner, Isabelle de Tomaso, is the daughter of Amory L. Haskell (the invitational’s namesake); Girvin, who came second in this year’s Ohio Derby and who was recovering from a foot injury; Timeline and Practical Joke, who are both trained by superstar trainer Chad Brown; and three other star horses.
In a pressure-packed race, Girvin was able to come from behind and narrowly beat out McCraken to win the 50th Haskell. Girvin, with a time of 1:48.35, beat McCraken by a nose, as the colt made a final surge on the last stretch of the race to squeak by the competition to win. Girvin, who came into the race with 9/1 odds, is owned by Brad Grady and trained by Joe Sharp. Girvin’s jockey was Robby Albarado.
Practical Joke and Irish War Cry came in third and fourth place, respectively.
Girvin started off slow, running in the seventh spot — which was dead last — for the first half of the race. He was able to move up to sixth place three-quarters of the way in and was fourth heading into the final stretch run. Girvin then sprinted past Irish War Cry, Practical Joke and McCraken to win the Haskell and earn a trip to the Breeders’ Cup.
“I’ve never been more confident in a horse,” Sharp said. “He made me a little nervous at first, but he started to get into his gear, and it was a long stretch. Thank God it was.”
The win marked the first Grade 1 victory for both Girvin and Sharp.
Frank Mirahmadi, who called the action during the races, was thrilled with the horse’s performance.
“My heart is still racing from the whole thing,” Mirahmadi said. “It was a great race. We honestly couldn’t have asked for anything more.”
Mirahmadi was also very happy with the day’s turnout.
“The fans have been great today,” Mirahmadi said. “I’m just glad the weather held up. We had a scare yesterday, but today has been beautiful. We’ve kind of had bad luck this summer with the rain. It seems like the rain always wanted to come when the gates would open on Friday. So I’m glad they smiled on us today.”
Albarado admitted that Girvin was in a bit of a jam at first, but he was confident that they could figure a way out.
“I thought the pace would help,” Albarado said. “I just wanted to buy my time and try to save some ground on the first run. We tried to make a move on McCraken and got stuck on the inside of the track, so we couldn’t move. I trusted my horse and had confidence in his ability to get out and run him down, and that’s what he did.”
American Pharoah wins All-Time Haskell
Right before the real Haskell race commenced, the park featured it’s first “All-Time Haskell” virtual race, which featured some of the greatest horses to ever race in the Haskell. The 2015 Haskell and Triple Crown winner American Pharoah beat out 1987 winner Bet Twice to win the all-time race. The 1976 winner, Majestic Light, and 1988 winner Forty Niner, came in third and fourth place.
Haskell undercards thrive
The $1 million Haskell Invitational wasn’t the only race that lived up to the hype. Other notable races included the Monmouth Cup, which was the third race of the day. In it, Sharp Azteca set a new track record with a time of 1:40.19, beating the old record set by Formal Gold in 1996. Sharp Azteca’s odds to win the Monmouth Cup were 1/5.
Wind Tartare won in a photo finish against Ultimate Cause during the ninth race of the day. Wind Tartare’s odds to win were 9/5, while Ultimate Cause’s were 5/1.
Chubilicious won the John Jay Handicap race in a photo finish against Fast Friar. Chubilicious’ odds were 4/5, while Fast Friar’s odds were 3/2.