Monmouth shines in memorable Haskell weekend

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If you’ve ever been fortunate enough to attend the races at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., you know that a trip there has the feel of a mini-vacation.

This year’s William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) certainly delivered that sensation both for fans and participants. Trainer Dale Romans said he loves running in the Haskell because of the excellent hospitality from the Monmouth staff that includes free hotel rooms on the Jersey Shore for horsemen.

With that in mind, I thought I’d share some of my Haskell “vacation” photos in this week’s blog.

A sandcastle welcomes fans to Monmouth Park on Haskell day, Aug. 2.

As I walked through the tunnel before the William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I), I couldn’t help but notice that many of the riders from the jockey colony who did not have mounts were making the same journey.

Like everyone else gathered at Monmouth that day, the riders were moving into position to watch American Pharoah make his first start since his Belmont Stakes presented by DraftKings (gr. I) victory to sweep the Triple Crown. The riders took up seats atop the roof of Monmouth’s scale house.

Monmouth jockeys watch Haskell.
Monmouth Park riders gather on the scale house to watch the Haskell.

Long-time announcer Dave Johnson, who hosted the post-race press conference, also noticed the riders. Johnson said in his more than four decades in racing he’d never noticed riders come out to see a race like they did that day.

Bill Murray

It was great seeing Bill Murray perform the “Riders up,” duties. While he’s been in better movies than "What About Bob?" I nearly always think of that movie when I hear his name, specifically this scene.

After the soggy Breeders’ Cup World Championships of 2007, it was great to see Monmouth at its best for the Haskell. It’s long been one of my favorite tracks.

I thought the Oceanport, N.J. track did everything it could as host of the 2007 Breeders' Cup but the weather just didn’t cooperate. Anytime someone would complain about that Breeders' Cup, I'd always encourage them to get to Monmouth in the summer.

American Pharoah in Monmouth Park walking ring
Fans at Monmouth Park gather for a close view of American Pharoah.

American Pharoah owner Ahmed Zayat took time during the post-race press conference to thank Monmouth officials. Zayat won the 2012 Haskell with Paynter and the Zayat family calls New Jersey home. Ahmed Zayat said Monmouth's hospitality factored in the decision to send American Pharoah to the Haskell.

“I’ve never seen a (more welcoming) organization from the porter to the president,” Zayat said. “It wasn’t a hard choice because we know they’re all about hospitality. People talk about Kentucky, and having experience at Keeneland and loving it. But there’s nothing like New Jersey. People love racing here."

Ahmed Zayat and Bob Baffert are both fans of Monmouth Park.

Racing Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert secured his eighth Haskell win with American Pharoah, and he's plenty familiar with the Monmouth scene.

"It’s a shame at Breeders' Cup that it rained because people didn’t get the opportunity to feel the warmth of Monmouth Park," Baffert said. "There’s just something about it.”


The Haskell is a Breeders’ Cup Challenge “Win and You’re In,” race to the Breeders’ Cup Classic (gr. I) Oct. 31 at Keeneland. The focus of the Keeping Pace blog will shift to the Breeders’ Cup Challenge for the next several weeks.

The Breeders’ Cup Challenge results page is up to allow readers to see, by Breeders’ Cup race, which horses have secured automatic bids. Keep in mind that winning a Challenge race isn’t the only way to make a Breeders’ Cup stakes field; horses also can be selected for a Breeders’ Cup race through a point system or selection of an expert panel. This page also includes the next Challenge race coming up, by division.

The page listing sires in order of Breeders’ Cup Challenge race winners for 2015 also is updated. The first stallion with two winners this year is Henny Hughes, who has Beholder in the Longines Distaff (gr. I) through her victory in the Clement L. Hirsch H. (gr. I) at Del Mar and Merry Meadow in the Breeders’ Cup Filly and Mare Sprint (gr. I) through her Princess Rooney Stakes (gr. II) victory at Gulfstream Park

A third list that is ready and will be updated after each race weekend is the Challenge winners by state, province, or country bred. Horses bred in the U.S. and Canada are listed by state or province while horses bred outside of North America are listed by country.

There is just one Breeders' Cup Challenge race coming up this weekend, but it's a nice one, the Whitney Stakes (gr. I), Saturday, Aug. 8 at Saratoga Race Course. The 10-horse field features seven previous grade I winners. The race is a "Win and You're In," to the Classic.

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