Did Monmouth avoid ‘national crisis’ on hot Haskell Stakes day?

July 20, 2019 02:42pm

Speaking to reporters Saturday after his track abbreviated its Haskell Invitational Stakes day card and delayed the Grade 1, $1 million feature until 8:05 p.m. ET, Dennis Drazin acknowledged an “atmosphere” of awareness around horse safety.

Drazin, chairman and CEO of Darby Development, operators of Monmouth Park, made the call after two races had run without incident Saturday, but beneath the pall of an Excessive Heat Warning that led other East Coast tracks to cancel their racing cards completely.

“A horse can break down even on a 75-degree day,” Drazin said. “A horse can break down for any reason. Is heat a concern if it’s 75? Probably not, but horses can have heart attacks for different reasons.

“And God forbid that a horse broke down for another reason other than the heat, we felt that there could be a national crisis created by it. It just wasn’t justified taking the risk.”

Monmouth Park canceled all but its remaining six stakes races, with the sequence to begin at 6 p.m. ET leading up to the Haskell, a top summer race for 3-year-olds led by the locally based Maximum Security.

RELATED: Updated Haskell day post times, race order

Drazin described this move as a “Plan B” considered in advance of the day — to only run stakes, and do so after conditions had cooled.

“This morning, I got here early,” he said, “I thought the weather was fine. I’ve been here on many, many days when it’s much hotter.”

Everything was on schedule until about 20 minutes before noon, also scheduled first post time. Monmouth Park received a call from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy’s office wanting assurance horses weren’t being put in harm’s way.

“Regulators,” Drazin said, conferred with state veterinarians before racing started after 12:30 p.m.

“We got that confirmation,” Drazin said. “We then held up the second race slightly for the same reason.”

Monmouth pulled the plug after that, at least temporarily.

“Frankly, I think it’s still safe to run,” Drazin said, with patrons at the track left some four-plus hours to wait between races before the all-stakes sequence begins. “I think the (heat) threshold right now, from what I’m told, is below the level of what would require a cancellation. The jockeys, after the second race, told us they’re fine with running — that it wasn’t that bad out there and we could continue.”

Drazin more than once referenced the current “atmosphere” surrounding horse racing, adding that it's something "we’re all dealing with right now because of breakdowns at Santa Anita.

“There have been a number of calls that were made by, I believe, PETA, to members of their organizations to contact legislators and the press and social media and express concerns about horse safety.

“So in this atmosphere, we felt that the important thing to do was to go overboard and continue to monitor the situation and evaluate whether there was a basis for those concerns. Frankly, we struggled with this. Read also the History of Horse Racing in Australia We had a number of meetings.”

Additionally, Monmouth Park is running an enhanced meet this summer thanks to new state subsidies offered over the next five years. Purse money daily is about $500,000, with the stakes schedule worth $7.1 million.

“We didn’t want to gamble that there were concerns that if a horse broke down, that could somehow impact whether we get future funding,” Drazin said “We think the legislature certainly wants to support us, but I think I have the duty to the public, the legislature that gave us this and the governor, to safeguard not only horses, but jockeys and our patrons. So I made the call that to be conservative — in the abidance of caution — we know that by 6 o’clock the heat’s gonna go down. The index is going to be substantially lower than it is now.

“It’s the smart thing to do in terms of trying to respond to what has become a crisis out there. They create a crisis by suggesting that this could potentially create an impact to the future health of a horse, which we didn’t want to take a risk about.”

Matt Shifman contributed to this report.


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