Maximum Security wins Haskell in delayed scorcher
It’s a bizarre world for this year’s 3-year-old crop. The adventures continued for the 52nd running of the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park.
Kicking off the second half of the season with a division still seeking a leader – after the first six months saw disqualifications, loose horses, and champions and classic winners falling by the wayside – the Haskell drew a solid field of seven, led by the most talked-about 3-year-old of the year, Maximum Security.
The Haskell had been moved up one week and a day from its traditional Sunday to accommodate NBC television coverage – as luck would have it, the new date, July 20, was a day of near triple-digit heat and high humidity that shut down every daytime track in the northeast, save one.
On the biggest day of racing on the Jersey shore, fans trickled through the turnstiles, and Monmouth management sweated it out until the second of 14 scheduled races had been run. At approximately 1:30 p.m., a statement came from Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of Darby Development, operator of Monmouth. Although a staff of veterinarians and state veterinarians, independent vets and consultants had determined conditions safe for racing, Drazin announced, “heightened concern from the public about the heat,” and universal interest in the horses’ well-being, would prompt the track to cancel the remaining non-stakes races and delay the six stakes until evening. Drazin added, “We’re doing this to err on the side of caution.”
The track ceased racing for five hours. Patrons left, and as traffic streamed out of the parking lots, attendants handed out vouchers to reenter. The race would not be shown live on NBC, as post time for the
$1 million, Grade 1 Haskell was moved from 5:47 to 8:05 p.m.
After the Haskell runners crossed the finish line, Maximum Security’s connections sweated a bit more.
The first-ever winner of the Kentucky Derby-G1 to be disqualified for interference (Dancer’s Image lost the 1968 Derby based on a failed drug test), Maximum Security stormed home to win the Haskell by 11⁄4 lengths over a determined Bob Baffert-trained Mucho Gusto. And then his number started flashing. The stewards had called for an inquiry to determine whether Maximum Security had squeezed King for a Day on the far turn. The review quickly dismissed, Gary and Mary West’s homebred colt, a son of the couple’s Breeders’ Cup Juvenile-G1 winner New Year’s Day trained by Jason Servis, earned his fifth official victory from seven starts and reasserted his position as the nation’s top 3-year-old.
Maximum Security had bypassed the other Triple Crown races following the Kentucky Derby and had set up shop at Monmouth. He first raced post-Derby in Monmouth’s traditional Haskell prep, the Pegasus Stakes, in June. The 1-20 favorite, he stumbled at the start, set the pace, but gave way late to finish a length behind King for a Day. “It stinks getting beat, but that’s horse racing,” said Servis after the Pegasus. “I think [the stumble] cost me the race. . . I think his next race will be better.”
Maximum Security turned in a “super” work per Servis five days before the Haskell. Seeking his second Grade 1 win of the year after dominating the Florida Derby at Gulfstream Park in March, the colt entered the gate the 4-5 favorite with jockey Luis Saez.
The field of seven became six the day of the race with the defection of another local hope, Michael and Jeff Fazio’s Belmont Stakes-G1 third-place finisher Joevia – not for the heat, but for a foot issue that trainer Gregg Sacco surmised an abscess. The Todd Pletcher-trained King for a Day went off the 5-2 second choice, California shipper Mucho Gusto a close third choice at 3-1. Dale Romans sent out Preakness runner-up Everfast, the only other entrant at single-digit odds (8-1); longshots Spun to Run and Bethlehem Road rounded out the field.
Maximum Security broke quickly and shot to the front with Bethlehem Road as King for a Day, from the rail, moved up to hold his position going into the first turn. Whereas fractions in the earlier stakes were modest, the Haskell pace was quick as Bethlehem Road and King for a Day led the field through an opening quarter in :22.92, with Saez keeping Maximum Security to their outside. The favorite pulled closer after a half in :46.71, and took dead aim on the Pegasus winner through three-quarters in 1:10.17 as Bethlehem Road dropped back.
As Maximum Security went for the lead, Joe Talamo sent Mucho Gusto in hot pursuit, and the two hit the top of the stretch as a team while King for a Day dropped back quickly after being checked sharply.
The stretch run between Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto made everyone forget the weather. Battling side by side, Maximum Security finally got the best of his rival in the final yards. The time for the 11⁄8 miles was 1:47.56, the fastest since the 1:47.21 posted by Rachel Alexandra 10 years ago. Spun to Run, owned by New Jersey resident Robert Donaldson, based at Parx Racing with trainer Juan Guerrero and making his stakes debut, got up to be third, 8 lengths behind the top pair.
The Wests, longtime owners/breeders who have campaigned the likes of 2017 3-year-old champion West Coast and 2018 2-year-old champion Game Winner, have been in the spotlight since the Kentucky Derby after filing a lawsuit to restore the Derby win, and issuing a challenge to Derby rivals. As for the Monmouth stewards’ inquiry, Gary West said, “In my mind, my horse did nothing wrong. I saw other horses going backwards at that time, so I had no concerns whatsoever that he would be taken down.”
West then focused on what Maximum Security has accomplished. “My horse has always been in top form. Of them all, he’s now the only one to with two Grade 1 wins. He has to be at the top of the class.
“Am I prejudiced? Of course I am.”
• Maryland resident Michael Lund Petersen’s Mucho Gusto, never worse than third in his seven starts, six of them stakes, including back-to-back wins in Santa Anita’s Grade 3 Lazaro Barrera and Affirmed Stakes, was the 14th Haskell starter for Haskell leading trainer Baffert, who now has eight wins, five seconds and a third.
• Mucho Gusto and Spun to Run are graduates of the 2018 Fasig-Tipton Midlantic May 2-year-olds in training sale. Petersen paid $625,000 for Mucho Gusto (by Mucho Macho Man), the first foal from three of racing age to compete in the U.S. for the Giant’s Causeway mare Itsagiantcauseway.
Spun to Run, a son of Hard Spun, was purchased by Donaldson for $64,000. Out of the stakes-winning Grand Slam mare Yawkey Way, he is a half-brother to California Oaks winner Tap It All.
• Official track attendance for Haskell Day was 25,173, the lowest in 26 years. Handle was decimated as only eight of the 14 races were run, with an average field size of just over five runners (the biggest field was the Wolf Hill Stakes with eight, the smallest the Matchmaker with three). Combined handle was $8,556,664, the lowest since 1996 and down 25 percent from $11,429,619 for 14 races in 2018.
• Monmouth Park planned a Fan Appreciation Day for Aug. 17, with free admission, free parking and food specials throughout the day to complement a racing card headlined by the Grade 3 Monmouth Oaks, expected to attract 2018 champion 2-year-old filly Jaywalk.
“Haskell Day was obviously not what we wanted it to be or expected it to be this year, and we want our fans to know that we truly appreciate their patience during a difficult day as well as their continued support of Monmouth Park,” Drazin noted in the announcement. “This is our small way of expressing our appreciation and saying thank you once again to all of our customers.”