Monmouth Park gives the grade 1 Haskell Invitational the tag line, “Where champions prove their greatness”. In the past four runnings, The Haskell has produced a pair of Horse of the Year winners and five year-end divisional champions: Curlin, Big Brown, Rachel Alexandra, Summer Bird and Lookin at Lucky.
The race began in 1968 as the Monmouth Invitational and was then renamed The Haskell Invitational in 1981. Prior to 1981 Monmouth offered the Haskell Handicap for older males; today older horses run in the Philip H. Iselin Stakes (GIII). Amory L. Haskell was the President of Monmouth Park from 1946 to 1996. During that period the current and third version of Monmouth Park was built and opened.
Eight Horse of the Year winners have run in The Haskell; however, four of them did not win the race. In 1985, Spend A Buck was defeated by Skip Trial. Alysheba lost to Bet Twice in 1987 and Curlin, who was HOY in 2007 and 2008, ran third behind Any Given Saturday and Hard Spun. Holy Bull, 1994, Point Given, 2001, and Rachel Alexandra, 2009, won the HOY in the same year as their victory. Skip Away, son of Skip Trial, won the Haskell in 1996, but did not earn his HOY title until 1998.
Haskell runners have won more than 20 Eclipse Awards, as listed in the chart. Eight victors went on to win their 3 Year-Old title, including the fillies Serena's Song and Rachel Alexandra.
Many Haskell fans consider the 1987 running to be one of the best. The race matched Alysheba, the winner of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness, and Bet Twice, who had just won the Belmont Stakes and was trained by Monmouth conditioner Jimmy Croll. Lost Code led the race into the stretch until Bet Twice passed him and held off the late charge of Alysheba to win a blanket finish in a stakes record tying time of 1:47 for the 9 furlongs.
The most exciting and popular victory probably came in 2009 when the great filly Rachel Alexandra beat the colts for the second time to continue her unbeaten year. Coming off her Preakness victory, Rachel defeated the Belmont winner Summer Bird by six lengths in 1:47-1. Summer Bird would go on to win the Travers and the 3YO colt Eclipse Award.
The Haskell probably also holds the championship for the best racetrack giveaway with The Haskell hats. The highly coveted hats were first given away in 1988 with the inaugural green cap sporting the classic snapback, baggy shape, and yellow decorative cord trim. They don’t make them like that anymore. This year’s hat is a stylish black with yellow and red details that remind me of the color's of last year's winner Lookin At Lucky.
Once again this year’s race has attracted the Preakness and Belmont winners in Shackleford and Ruler On Ice. Bob Baffert, who holds the record for most Haskell victories with four, is expected to bring Coil to Monmouth Park. For the second year in a row year The Haskell will be broadcast to a national television audience on ABC-TV from 5-6pm ET.
Will the 2011 Haskell produce a fifth consecutive 3YO title? Will racing at the Jersey Shore continue to produce champions? Come on out to Monmouth and get your Haskell hat. I will see you there!