JC / Railbird

Monmouth Park

Betting on Pharoah

American Pharoah parades before the 2015 Haskell

Amanda Duckworth on the American Pharoah effect:

[Monmouth Park] also posted an all-sources handle of $20 million, which is a non-Breeders’ Cup record. The Haskell alone brought in a record $6.54 million, shattering the mark of $4.4 million bet on the 2010 edition. To anyone who questioned why the track bumped the purse of the race from $1 million to $1.75 million, that is your answer. American Pharoah brings in people, betting dollars and a great deal of mainstream exposure. That’s a pretty great trifecta for the sport.

NYRA wants to see that kind of action on the Travers Stakes, and is trying to lure the colt’s connections with a promise to raise the Travers purse to $1.6 million, up from $1.25 million, if American Pharoah follows his Haskell win with a Saratoga appearance. Owner Ahmed Zayat wants to go. “My preference would be to run [next] at Saratoga,” Zayat told Bob Ehalt. “If it’s up to me, it would be the Travers,” he said to Ron Mitchell. “I have made my desires known to my trainer. He knows what I want.” Trainer Bob Baffert says that’s the case, and that Zayat is deferring a decision on the Triple Crown winner’s next race to him. “[T]his is true and accurate statement,” Zayat confirmed with a tweet.

Baffert’s not committing for now: “It’s way too early to say anything.”

This is an interesting little dilemma for owner, trainer, and Coolmore, who will stand the big horse at stud. Sid Fernando’s been dissecting the conflict and incentives via his Twitter stream, discussing the almost-certain “kicker” for winning the Travers (essentially a performance bonus), built into the breeding rights deal Zayat and Coolmore negotiated.

In the scramble for American Pharoah’s next start, the Travers seems to have moved ahead of the Pennsylvania Derby, which is the race I thought he’d point to next, given the likely purse boost, appearance fees for owner and trainer, and Baffert’s lack of interest in running the colt against older horses before the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Parx racing director Sam Elliott has been working hard to sell his race, traveling to Churchill Downs, Santa Anita, and Monmouth Park in pursuit, but Zayat has said “No Penn Derby” and ruled out the Pacific Classic as well — “zero shot!! Timing doesn’t work.” Elliott was at the Haskell on Sunday — I hope he didn’t get the Pennsylvania Derby news on Twitter too.

Mike Pegram, a long-time owner with Baffert, was blunt about the where-next question. “They’ll go where the money is,” he told Ed Zieralski. The Travers’ historic significance plus the added money makes a sweet exacta.

Odds and ends: American Pharoah was given a Beyer speed figure of 109 for the Haskell … Upstart will point to the Travers after running third to the Triple Crown winner on Sunday in his first start since finishing last in the Kentucky Derby. “I was miserably impressed,” trainer Rick Violette said of the Haskell winner … Monmouth reported attendance of 60,983 for Sunday’s race, a figure Chris Rossi calls into question by comparing per-attendee handle for the Haskell since 2000 (chart here, if you follow him on Twitter). This year’s $48.58 is the lowest average in that period, beating the previous low of $65.35 set in 2009. In 2014, the average was $70.29 … you can definitely rule out a possibility that probably hadn’t even occurred to you: The Eclipse Stakes winner Golden Horn will not meet American Pharoah in the Breeders’ Cup. “It’s a complete no-no, on dirt certainly,” said owner Anthony Oppenheimer.

Saratoga babies: The spreadsheet of 2015 juvenile race starters and winners has been updated through second week results (XLS).

Shore Thing

Alert! American Pharoah has arrived at Monmouth Park for Sunday’s Haskell. Let the beautiful, absurd hoopla begin. Fans were there to greet him at the Atlantic City airport, and an even bigger crowd awaited him at the barn. The Triple Crown winner is about to make his first start since the Belmont Stakes. He looks sculpted, and if possible, even more of a beast than he did just seven weeks ago. Trainer Bob Baffert has worked him three times in 10 days. Tuesday, he breezed four furlongs in :48.80 at Del Mar. July 23, he worked six furlongs in 1:11, more than three seconds faster than the other 11 workers at the distance (a group that included 5-year-old Grade 3 winner Bal a Bali). “He keeps getting stronger,” Baffert said in Tuesday’s NTRA teleconference.

The likely field for the Haskell is Competitive Edge, Keen Ice, Mr. Jordan, Tekton, Top Clearance, Upstart, and War Story. Competitive Edge and Upstart are cross-entered in the Jim Dandy; Tekton is another whose connections are hedging their bets. The decision may now be easier for them — Monmouth announced today that the Haskell purse has been raised to $1.75 million:

Monmouth Park Racetrack has announced a $750,000 purse increase to the William Hill Haskell Invitational, which is to be renewed for the 48th time this Sunday, Aug. 2.

“The Haskell has been called the fourth jewel of the Triple Crown,” said Bob Kulina, president of Darby Development LLC, operators of Monmouth Park Racetrack. “With the Derby purse at $2 million and the Preakness and Belmont going to $1.5 million, it’s only fitting that we join in that mix for our race, which has proven itself the next logical step for 3-year-olds following the Triple Crown.”

The Haskell runner-up will earn more than about as much as the Jim Dandy winner ($350,000/$360,000). Trainer Rick Violette was swayed by the added money, telling David Grening that Upstart will go to New Jersey.

Of course, the purse increase also:

… recognizes the prestige of a Triple Crown winner running at Monmouth.

Ah! The prestige.

Jersey Pharoah

The expected is official. American Pharoah will make his first start post-Triple Crown in the Haskell, and Monmouth is planning a blowout:

“We are ecstatic to know American Pharoah will be running in the Haskell,” Monmouth president Bob Kulina said. “This will be the biggest day ever in the history of racing in New Jersey. We’ve been racing for 70 years and this is the first time we will have a Triple Crown champion here. I didn’t think I would ever say this, but this will be even bigger than 2007 when we hosted the Breeders’ Cup.”

I don’t know where they’ll put all the people,” said trainer Bob Baffert (DRF+).

Owner Ahmed Zayat says the Travers remains a possibility for Pharoah, but Saratoga’s double-edged history is on his mind: “I am aware of the historic perspective of Saratoga. I am also aware that Secretariat got beat there.”

Pharoah Planning

American Pharoah worked three furlongs in :36.40 at Santa Anita on Monday (photo) and negotiations re: his next race are ongoing. Monmouth Park wants the Triple Crown winner for the Haskell on August 2. Owner Ahmed Zayat wants a few things too if he’s going to commit:

Earlier Monday, word from the track was that they were still waiting for direction from Zayat as to whether he wanted them to increase the Haskell purse or put together some kind of lucrative package for winning multiple races, including the Haskell and Breeders’ Cup Classic.

That’s not what Zayat’s looking for, however, and he said he indicated that in a conference call with Monmouth Park leadership last week.

“I want to make it a festival,” he said. “Where it’s best for the prestige of this horse. Something that is appropriate for a Triple Crown winner. I want to excite the fans. I want to make it a festival that they will always remember. A great day for the sport. And whoever is going to deliver that, that’s what’s good for me. That’s where I’m going to go. That was my message to them.”

And what about Del Mar, where the colt will be training this summer?

… officials are trying to come up with a plan on how to deal with having racing’s superstar housed on the backstretch. Baffert made it clear that the colt is getting back to work, and surely Del Mar will respect those wishes. At Del Mar, it’s almost certain there won’t be nearly the fuss made over the colt’s arrival as there was at Santa Anita, where he was welcomed back as a conquering hero by adoring fans, TV stations and every form of media. As much as Del Mar would like to see it, this won’t be Cigar coming in for the 1996 Pacific Classic. Talk about a zoo.

All Del Mar can hope for is that American Pharoah’s scheduled works will be announced ahead of time to allow San Diego’s horse racing fans to attend them in the morning as they did for California Chrome last year.

If you’re not already planning to be there August 22, don’t rush to book a trip.


A big Beyer speed figure of 116 for Verrazano’s Haskell win*, which is second only to Game on Dude’s 117 for the Santa Anita Handicap, ties the Dude’s 116 for the San Antonio, and tops Fort Larned’s 115 for the Stephen Foster this year. If all three keep running like that, it’ll be a great Breeders’ Cup Classic. But what to make of Verrazano? He’s 6-for-7 in his career now, his 14th-place finish in the Kentucky Derby his sole loss (and the sloppy track gives him an excuse there), and he was the one Haskell starter running in the stretch:

No wonder he was able to open up 9 3/4 lengths over Power Broker — both the second- and third-place finishers were running a :27+ quarter. Verrazano was the only one coming in under :26 (watch the replay). In that way, the Haskell looks to me a bit like the Wood Memorial: it’s hard to tell, from the performances of the other contenders, just how well Verrazano actually ran.

Gary West saw a division-topping win:

Verrazano not only moved to the head of the 3-year-old class, but he also put himself in the discussion for Horse of the Year.

Ranking the 3-year-old males by wins through the weekend’s racing, I’d put Verrazano second to Orb, still hanging out at Fair Hill, with his Kentucky Derby and Florida Derby victories, and ahead of Palace Malice, with his Jim Dandy and Belmont Stakes scores. The Travers, which trainer Todd Pletcher said “would be a logical next spot” for the Haskell winner, should clarify where Verrazano fits, assuming the other division leaders show up. Maybe he is as brilliant as he appears, or maybe it’s that his rivals have been so dull.

Preakness winner Oxbow, who suffered an ankle sprain while finishing fourth in the Haskell, may or may not make the Travers, Jerry Bossert reports trainer D. Wayne Lukas saying, but the Breeders’ Cup is still his year-end goal.

*He ranked high on other scales as well: Brisnet, 111; TimeformUS, 124.

3:30 PM Addendum: More on Oxbow from Lukas, via the NYRA press office:

“The X-rays were all perfectly clean,” Lukas said. “It’s what you guys would call an ankle sprain, it looks like. I was more concerned with a condylar [fracture] or something like that but, boy, he had a pretty set of X-rays. It’s amazing. For a horse with that many [starts], they were really clean.”

This is great news, especially since Oxbow has been such a stalwart this year; the Haskell was his eighth start in 2013, his 13th career start.

Saratoga vs. Monmouth

There’s no need for competition, Ed Fountaine writes:

NYRA should embrace the Haskell — which is, after all, merely a prep race for the marquee event of the Saratoga meet, the 141st Travers Stakes on Aug. 28. Since the same all-star horses that face off at Monmouth on Sunday will renew their rivalry in the “Midsummer Derby,” NYRA should start beating the drums now. Advertise that the local fans can watch and bet on the Haskell at Saratoga on Sunday. Show the race on the infield TV screens. Turn the tables on Monmouth Park by using their signature race to promote yours.

Especially if you’re NYRA, and you’re likely to win the numbers game: The test of Monmouth’s “elite meet” handle figures was always going to be the opening of Saratoga. Friday, when the Spa kicked off its 40-day meet, the New Jersey track took in $5,515,194, a decline of 20% from $6,898,633 the previous Friday, while attendance remained roughly the same. Sunday, Monmouth was down 11% compared to the previous Sunday. Saturday was the odd day out, as Haskell day will certainly be next weekend. With the Lady’s Secret and Rachel Alexandra featured, handle was up 25% and attendance up 37%, which tracked nicely with on-track handle, up 35% over the previous Saturday.

At Saratoga, the first four days of this year’s extended meeting have been declared satisfactory: “Average all-sources handle, wagers on Saratoga races both on-track and from simulcast outlets nationwide, came to $12,834,190 daily, for a total of $51,336,758.” Attendance averaged 18,133 per day.

Related: Steve Zorn offers a more comprehensive comparison.

A Matter of Perspective

Which recap best captures Rachel Alexandra’s three-length win as the 1-10 favorite in the ungraded Lady’s Secret Stakes at Monmouth this afternoon?

Rachel Alexandra has to work in Lady’s Secret victory (Blood-Horse)
… it was not a walkover for the reigning Horse of the Year …

Rachel Alexandra cruises in the Lady’s Secret (Thoroughbred Times)
Rachel Alexandra turned in a performance befitting a Horse of the Year …

Rachel Alexandra takes care of business (Daily Racing Form)
… a solid win, considering the conditions.

I’m partial to the last. She tracked an unexciting pace, responded when asked, looked comfortable, despite the heat. She won by open lengths, even if not by a great margin. (And really, what would have been gained by a blowout?)

Final time for the nine furlongs was 1:49.78 (final furlong :12.75).

With Rachel Alexandra running, Monmouth racked up phenomenal handle numbers, taking in a record $11,421,794 on its 12-race card. The WPS pool in the Lady’s Secret hit $1,593,662, the exacta pool $343,968.

At Saratoga today, first-timer Wine Police turned heads with a wire-to-wire win in the seventh, a 5 1/2 furlong maiden special, which the 2-year-old Speightstown colt took by 7 3/4 lengths in a final time of 1:03.36 (watch the replay). He’s the latest addition this summer’s buzz babies list.

7/25/10 Addendum: A Beyer speed figure of 110 for Rachel Alexandra in the Lady’s Secret, 105 for runner-up Queen Martha. That’s a big number for ‘Martha, who was making her second US start and her first on dirt. Rachel Alexandra’s BSF revised to 105, per Mike Watchmaker (DRF+).

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