Fans flock to Monmouth Park each year for the Haskell Invitational Stakes, the crown jewel of the Oceanport, N.J., track's season. (Photo by Eclipse Sportswire)
Each year in mid-July at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., the Haskell Invitational Stakes pays tribute to its namesake who resurrected horse racing in New Jersey in the 1940s. Some of the sport’s finest 3-year-olds have gathered at this lovely venue to claim a place in Monmouth history. In 1968, the Haskell was first held as a handicap, but later the race was made into an invitational event in 1981.
Monmouth Park Association opened the doors to its original track on July 30, 1870 and racing quickly gained popularity from the state citizens in the 1880s. However, legislation in the decade to follow illegalized pari-mutual wagering in New Jersey and forced Monmouth Park Association to cease horse racing.
Half a century would pass before a group headed by Amory L. Haskell would propose a legislative charge to pass a bill for wagering on horse racing in the Garden State. In 1946, New Jersey Legislature brought horse racing back and Monmouth Park would open that June in Oceanport. Now the one-mile dirt oval hosts quality Thoroughbred racing during summers, headlined by two Grade 1 events: the Haskell Invitational and the United Nations Stakes. In 2007, Monmouth Park hosted the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.
The Haskell’s recent winners include Paynter in 2012 and Rachel Alexandra in 2009. In winning this race, Paynter became Bob Baffert’s third consecutive Haskell winner, and his sixth overall. Baffert claims the title of most Haskell wins for a trainer. Rachel Alexandra joined the 1995 winner Serena’s Song as the only other filly to cross the finish line triumphant. Serena’s Song is a fine filly to share this achievement with – she won 17 graded stakes races (11 of those were Grade 1s) and defeated males and older females at three. Rachel Alexandra won the Haskell in an exceptional racing season by six lengths and would later win the Grade 1 Woodward Stakes against older males by a nail-biting head bob.
PAYNTER WINNING 2012 HASKELL INVITATIONAL
Photo by Eclipse Sportswire
This year’s Haskell - the highlight of the July 28, 14-race card - should have strong field depth. It is headlined by Preakness Stakes winner Oxbow. The Awesome Again colt had a month-long break from track work after his runner-up finish in the Belmont Stakes. His first breeze took place at Churchill Downs, and he completed the five-furlong workout in 1:02. Upon his arrival to Saratoga Race Course on July 9, trainer D. Wayne Lukas said: “He couldn't be doing any better. We have a chance at the 3-year-old championship, and possibly Horse of the Year, so we'll go for the million-dollar purse and Grade 1 win in the Haskell and then come back in the Travers and try to beat those other two [Kentucky Derby winner Orb and Belmont winner Palace Malice].”
However, Oxbow will face a formidable challenge in the Haskell from a field that could include the overwhelming Pegasus Stakes winner Verrazano, Kentucky Derby runner-up Golden Soul and Grade 1 winner Power Broker.
OXBOW WINNING 2013 PREAKNESS
Photo courtesy of Eclipse Sportswire