By Brian Deakyne
OCEANPORT – Superlatives like “biggest” and “richest” are in order for Sunday when the 46th running of the William Hill Haskell Invitational takes place at Monmouth Park.
Sunday’s race, which is the premiere event each summer at Monmouth Park, will feature a host a field of impressive horses.
“This is the biggest race in New Jersey and the richest race is North America,” said John Heims, media relations director at Monmouth Park. “I’m not going to anticipate how many people we’re going to get, but I’d say in the high 30 (thousands).”
The race will include Preakness winner Oxbow and Golden Soul, the runner-up at this year’s Kentucky Derby.
“This is a $1 million race, so everybody wants to be a part of it,” Heims said. “These are the best 3-year-olds and the champion will really emerge as the best out there.”
Verrazano also will be racing on Sunday along with Micromanage, who won the Long Branch Stakes earlier in July.
The race, named after the first president and chairman of Monmouth Park Jockey Club, is even more important to the local area after Super Storm Sandy last fall.
“This is really part of restoring the Shore,” Heims said. “I know what the damage was like and we take pride in this. We take pride in the summer season when people can really come to the Jersey Shore for this event.”
Even with the Preakness winner and Kentucky Derby runner-up racing this weekend, Heims said the Haskell this year really is an open competition.
“It’s a wide-open betting race,” he said. “The winner will really stamp himself in the 3-year-old division and there is a lot of pride in that for them.”
The name Haskell has become synonymous with high-stakes racing. The first event called the Haskell, held at Monmouth Park in 1968, was run as a handicap race for older horses. It became an invitational handicap race in 1981.
According to racetrack history, Amory Haskell (1863-1966), who the race is named for, is the man who can be credited with keeping the sport alive in the state of New Jersey. Over the years, horse racing at the Jersey Shore has had many metamorphoses and the track itself, many physical relocations.
According to the Monmouth Park website, horse racing in New Jersey was outlawed for 53 years until Haskell championed the cause of legalizing pari-mutuel wagering for thoroughbred and standardbred racing.
After several years of intense lobbying, Haskell was successful in getting an amendment to the state Constitution adopted that allowed betting. He organized a group of prominent businessmen to build a new racetrack.
The newly organized Monmouth Park Jockey Club opened on the present Oceanport Avenue location on June 19, 1946, with 18,724 in attendance.
The gates will open at 10 a.m. on Sunday.