Monmouth Park CEO Dennis Drazin explains decision to push back the Haskell Invitational to an 8:05 p.m. start
Steven Falk, @smfalk
OCEANPORT – It was almost deju vu all over again Saturday night at Monmouth Park for Maximum Security in the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Invitational
After crossing the wire first in the 1/1/8 mile race, Maximum Security had to survive a stewards’ inquiry for interference with King for a Day on the far turn.
However, unlike the Kentucky Derby, where Maximum Security was disqualified from first to 17th by the Churchill Downs stewards, the Monmouth Park stewards upheld the original order of finish, which was Maximum Security first, Mucho Gusto second and long shot Spun to Run third.
Maximum Security was all heart in the race, as he established himself as the leading 3-year-old country.
The son of New Year’s Day took the lead on the far turn shortly after King for a Day was squeezed a little bit on the rail. Mucho Gusto roamed up the outside to challenge Maximum Security and looked like he was going to roll on by.
However, Maximum Security, showing the heart of a champion and never let the Bob Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto by in winning by 1 1/4 lengths before a crowd of 25,173.
The 4-5 favorite, Maximum Security paid $3,60 to win.
However, bad memories had to be entering into owner Gary West’s mind when the inquiry sign was posted.
“The first time I saw it (the video showing why the inquiry sign was posted), I thought there was no way they can take this horse (Maximum Security) down,” said West, who is trying to have the DQ in the Kentucky Derby overturned in the courts. “The other horse was going backwards in my opinion.”
Luis Saez, Maximum Security’s jockey, agreed with West’s assessment
“I knew it (the DQ) was not going to happen,” Saez said.
There was no claim of foul by King for a Day’s jockey John Velazquez. Velazquez declined comment to the Monmouth Park media relations department after the race.
King for a Day, who had defeated Maximum Security in the TVG.com Pegasus on June 16 at Monmouth in Maximum Security’s first race since the Kentucky Derby, was beginning to tire after he had assumed the lead briefly on the far turn. He wound up fifth, beaten 12 1/4 lengths.
Mucho Gusto’s trainer Bob Baffert, who has trained a Haskell-record eight winners, did not think a DQ of Maximum Security was warranted even though he would have had another Haskell winner if Maximum Security was DQ’d
“I’m glad they didn’t disqualify him (Maximum Security). That would have been awful,” Baffert said.
Baffert does train horses for West, including last year’s 2-year-old champion Game Winner. Maximum Security and Game Winner could be running against each other Aug. 24 in the Travers Stakes at Saratoga.
In a year where the Triple Crown was split three ways and with Kentucky Derby winner Country House and Belmont Stake winner Sir Winston currently sidelined for the year, there can be no question Maximum Security is now the horse to beat in the 3-year-old division and one of the leaders in the race for Horse of the Year.
“Is there another 3-year-old with two Grade I wins and having finished first in a third Grade I?” West said.
Maximum Security is the only 3-year-old who has posted two Grade I wins. He won the Florida Derby on March 30, in addition to the Haskell, and of course, crossed the wire first in the Kentucky Derby.
There is also no question Maximum Security is a tough horse to get by. He proved in the Kentucky Derby, despite the incident for which he was DQ for around the far turn, and he proved it again Saturday night.
Mucho Gusto, who was trying to give Hall of Famer Baffert his ninth Haskell winner, pulled up alongside Maximum Security coming out of the far turn.
“He likes a good fight,” West said.
“I saw (Mucho Gusto), he came outside me, he came close to me and tried to beat me. I just let my horse run and he kept battling with him,” Saez said.
West, trainer Jason Servis and Saez all agreed that they were going to use a different strategy with Maximum Security than they had in all their other two-turn races before Saturday night.
In a race loaded with speed, even with the late scratch of the expected pacesetter Joevia, Maximum Security sat third while racing three wide on the backstretch as 42-1 shot Bethlehem Road set the pace between horse with King for a Day in close pursuit through fractions of 22.92 for the first quarter, 46.71 for the half mile.
I knew there was going to be a lot of speed in the race,” Saez said. “I’m didn’t want to go to go to the lead and let everybody press me. I had the best post, I think. I just came out of the break from the gate and waited to see how fast they were going.
When I saw that everybody wanted take the lead I just stayed right there. And when he came to the half a mile he put me inside in a pretty nice spot, he was traveling good. We I saw (Mucho Gusto), he came outside me, he came close to me and tried to beat me. I just let my horse run and he kept battling with him.”
Bethlehem Road dropped back entering the far turn and King for a Day had the lead after six furlongs in 1:10.17.
When he came to the half mile pole, he put me inside in a pretty nice spot, Saez said. “He was traveling good.
Mucho Gusto sat about a length off the pace on the back side while racing four wide before he made his move.
“We had a perfect trip,” Mucho Gusto’s rider Joe Talamo said. “Just really proud of my horse. It was a tough beat. But he gave it all and I was really proud of him.”
It was a Haskell that was run in the twilight and the latest time-wise in the day the race has been run in its 52-year history.
The race went off at 8:11 p.m. after Monmouth officials pushed back the start of the race 2 hours and 24 minutes earlier in the day. That decision was made after the first two races of the scheduled 14-race card had been run because of the excessive heat.
Track officials postponed six other races early in the afternoon and ran just the Haskell and the five other stakes races on the original slate in an abbreviated second portion of the card that began at 6 p.m.
The Haskell field was reduced to six with the scratch of Joevia at about 5 p.m. because of a foot injury, trainer Gregory Sacco said.
Midnight Bisou rolls in Molly Pitcher.
Midnight Bisou, the leading older mare in the country, shot through an opening along the rail in the stretch under Hall of Fame jockey Mike Smith to win the $150,000 Grade III Molly Pitcher in hand by a length over Coach Rocks.
Third in the Breeders; Cup Distaff last year and now 5-for-5 this year, including wins in the Grade I Apple Blossom at Oaklawn Park in April and the Grade I Ogden Phipps at Belmont Park on Belmont Stakes Day, Midnight Bisou sat third down the backstretch while saving ground.
She dropped back briefly to fourth on the turn before Smith shook the reins coming out of the far turn. Smith, who won his second race on the card, showed the whip to Midnight Bisou, but never hit her.
“Her race today was beautiful,” said winning trainer Steve Asmussen. “The hard part was us showing patience. We were very anxious. She’s a very special filly and you want everything to go well. But she was great in the post parade, beautiful in the gate, and she traveled very well under Mike the whole way and finished very well. Pure professionals overcome obstacles. She’s better equipped to handle them than the people.”
Midnight Bisou, who went off at odds of 1-20, paid $2,10, $2.10, $2.10 across the board. She is now 9-for-9 at the 1 1/16 mile distance that the Molly Pitcher was run at.
The race was a prep for Midnight Bisou for the Grade I Personal Ensign, to be run at Saratoga, on Aug. 24.
More than $498,000 out of $534,000 in the show pool was wagered on Midnight Bisou.
War Story, trained by Monmouth leading trainer Jorge Navarro, outgamed the Todd Pletcher-trained Bal Harbor in a thrilling stretch duel to win the $200,000 Grade III Monmouth Cup.
In recording his first win since March 10, 2018, War Story, who went off at 7-1, sat second in the early stages behing 4-5 favorite Coal Front of the 1/1/8 mile race. He moved to the front on the far turn and was immediately challenged by Bal Habour, ridden by Smith.
It looked like Bal Harbour, a 3-1 shot, was going to roll on by, but War Story, on the rail, under Maximum Security’s jockey Luis Saez, would not give in and was actually inching away in the final yards. It was 12 lengths back to Coal Front.
I’m So Fancy, the 9-5 second choice, set a slow pace under jockey Trevor McCarthy and went wire-to-wire to hold off the Chad Brown-trained and 2-5 favorite CompetitionofIideas by a neck in the three-horse $150,000 Grade III Matchmaker at 1 1//8 miles on the turf.
It was McCarthy’s second stakes win of the day. Both wins were on the turf.
Just Howard, the 8-5 second-choice in the field of four, took the lead in deep stretch and held off 3-5 favorite Divisdero by a head to win the 1/1/16 mile $150,000 Grade III Oceanport Stakes on the turf.
Jevan Toledo, the rider of Divisdero, claimed foul against McCarthy, the rider of Just Howard, for interferencce in the stretch, but the claim was disallowed.
Justaholic, the 3-2 favorite, wore down 3-1 shot Fig Jelly, trained by Maximum Security’s trainer Jason Servis in deep stretch, to win the $75,000 Wolf Hill Stakes run at 5 1/2 furlongs on the turf.