OCEANPORT, N.J. – After running its first two races Saturday, Monmouth Park canceled six of its 12 remaining races because of a dangerously high heat index (approximately 110) and pushed back post time of the $1 million Haskell Invitational from 5:47 to 8:05 p.m. NBC had planned to show the race live from 5-6 p.m.
Dennis Drazin, Monmouth’s president and CEO, said, “I made the call. This was Plan B, the backup plan. We spoke with the jockeys after the second race and they were OK with continuing. I think we could have run [the entire card] safely. I don’t think we would have had any incidents, but I’m supposed to be responsible for the safety of the horses.”
Referencing the 30 fatal breakdowns at the recent Santa Anita meeting, Drazin said, “We’re on the cusp of a crisis in the industry. The Santa Anita problems created a situation where the public is much more aware of the problem. We decided a breakdown could cause a national crisis, and we decided it wasn’t worth taking the risk. I made the call to be conservative.”
Drazin also said pressure from People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has had an effect. On Friday, PETA issued a statement that said: “Heat kills, so it’s extremely foolish and reckless for Monmouth Park to stay open with temperatures soaring to record highs … If even one horse collapses, Monmouth officials should be held criminally liable for cruelty.”
Monmouth canceled its third, fourth, sixth, seventh, 13th and 14th races and planned to run all of its six scheduled stakes – the fifth and the eighth through 12th races. According to weather.com, the temperature at 6 p.m., when the card would resume, would be 94, about 3 degrees lower than when the second race was run.
About a half-hour after the announcement that the rest of the card would be delayed more than four hours, many fans were leaving the track. “They should have announced this yesterday,” one exiting man said angrily.
“I apologize to any patrons who are unhappy,” Drazin said.
Five other tracks – Saratoga, Finger Lakes, Delaware Park, Parx and Laurel – announced Thursday that they were canceling Saturday’s cards. The Haskell is the Jersey Shore track’s signature race, and Haskell day produces its only large crowd and megabucks handle. Drazin was asked if he would have canceled Saturday’s card on Thursday or Friday had this not been Haskell day.
“No, we would not have canceled,” Drazin said. “We’ve run here when it was hotter.”
He acknowledged the decision to give up six races would hurt Monmouth financially.
“We’re going to get creamed,” he said. “With all the other East Coast tracks canceled, we were looking at a handle of maybe $20 million. I’m thinking it cost us maybe $5 million.”