The joke around Monmouth Park is that the Kentucky Derby is the first Haskell prep race.
Except it’s not a joke, with the Triple Crown races providing the star power for the Jersey Shore’s signature race each summer.
And no star has been brighter at Monmouth Park than Bob Baffert. The silver-haired trainer with the golden touch has elevated the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Stakes to a once unthinkable level, winning it a record nine times.
Baffert is good for business at the Jersey Shore and the Monmouth Park brand. That is why his record seventh Kentucky Derby win Saturday was the best possible outcome in Oceanport, as Medina Spirit went wire-to-wire at Churchill Downs.
The Haskell will be run July 17, six weeks removed from the Belmont Stakes, the final jewel of the Triple Crown, on June 5.
“He supports Monmouth Park. You can count on him most every year to send one of his big horses, and he wins a lot of them,” said Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of Darby Development LLC, which operates Monmouth Park. “So I think it’s all good for racing, and it’s all good for Baffert and it’s all good for Monmouth Park.”
Among Baffert’s first six Derby winners, War Emblem, American Pharoah and Authentic all won the Haskell, although Authentic won the Haskell first last year when the COVID-19 pandemic scrambled the Triple Crown calendar.
The best $500,000 Monmouth Park ever spent was used to raise the 2001 purse to $1.5 million, luring Baffert’s first Haskell winner, Point Given, with the Preakness and Belmont Stakes winner eventually named Horse of the Year.
That came four years after a Monmouth Park contingent showed up at Baffert’s Hollywood Park barn trying to entice him to send Silver Charm, Baffert’s first Kentucky Derby winner, to the Haskell.
While he didn’t ship Silver Charm, the trip paid big dividends because it broke the ice. Baffert ended up sending Anet, with his first Haskell starter finishing second behind Belmont winner Touch Gold, who ended Silver Charm’s Triple Crown bid.
It all culminated with American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, cruising to victory in the 2015 Haskell, shattering attendance and handle records at Monmouth Park.
Baffert has never missed the board with any of his 15 Haskell starters, which have bankrolled $7.3 million.
As for Medina Spirit, his running style looks incredibly similar to Authentic, who went wire-to-wire in the Kentucky Derby last September, seven weeks after doing it in the Haskell.
In addition to Medina Spirit, Baffert’s also pointing Concert Tour towards the Preakness on May 15.
Opening day May 28
Monmouth Park had been opening on Kentucky Derby Day. This year, the stable area opened Saturday, with opening day set for May 28. Now the track is trying to move forward a year after opening day was postponed for two months, until July 3, with the meet reduced to 44 days.
“We’re excited,” Drazin said. “We had 2,000 applications for 1,600 stalls. Horses want to compete because the purses are good. The subsidy certainly helped the racing last year. We ended up actually making a profit in tough times. When all’s said and done, you found that when sports were closed for a while racing became very big, and then racing continued to grow.
“Our account wagering was up significantly over expectations so I think all in all we gives you some confidence that coming into this year with things being much more normal.”