A Purse Bump And a “Phan Phestival” at Monmouth Park

About 10 minutes before American Pharoah arrived at Monmouth Park in Oceanport, NJ on Wednesday afternoon, the track announced that the purse for Sunday’s William Hill Haskell Invitational would be increased from $1 million to $1.75 million.

While it’s not unusual for purse incentives to be added to big races to attract top horses, those incentives are generally announced weeks, not days, before the race is scheduled to be run, and not the day before the race is scheduled to be drawn, in order for owners and trainers to make decisions about where they will run their horses.

“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, in a press release.  “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.”

While a popular, lucrative race that carries Thoroughbred racing’s highest ranking–Grade I– the Haskell is seldom, if ever, discussed in terms of the Triple Crown. Both the purse increase and Kulina’s assertion gave rise to speculative conversations on social media, about both the timing and the rationale for the seemingly sudden purse increase.

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Photo credit: Bill Denver/Equi-Photo

2 thoughts on “A Purse Bump And a “Phan Phestival” at Monmouth Park

  1. To me, the cap NYRA did on Belmont day may have been something that was “strongly suggested” by parties outside of NYRA, especially given NYRA in the past had no problems with crowds of 100,000 plus as was the case from 2002-’04 (I was there all three of those years, including 2004 when 120,000+ were there for Smarty Jones’s attempt).

    What may have been a big concern was a scenario where NYRA had 125,000 for the Belmont Stakes and 50,000+ on the LIRR. While it was proven the LIRR was able to handle the crowds a lot better than a year ago, until eight days before the Belmont Stakes there was a major concern of a scenario where the New York Rangers would have been hosting Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals in the immediate period following The Belmont Stakes (that game, which actually wound up being in Tampa between the Lightning (who beat the Rangers in seven in the Eastern Conference Finals) and Chicago Blackhawks started at 7:20 PM ET). Even with the improved platforms to get out of Belmont Park, had 125,000+ been at Belmont with 50,000+ taking the LIRR, it would have been near impossible to get everyone who was at Belmont back from there before Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals ended. Had the Rangers been the Eastern Conference representative in the Finals, that game would have been in Madison Square Garden, directly above Penn Station and that had been a possibility dating back to early April as the Rangers had home ice for as long as they were in the playoffs. The likely worry of such parties if they demanded NYRA have a cap on attendance for The Belmont Stakes was where the Rangers DID play Game 2 at home, lost that game and fans coming out of MSG coming into Penn Station and being the area around there seeing people coming back from Belmont Park happy about a Triple Crown winner and such fans (likely inebriated) mistaking those coming from Belmont for Blackhawk fans, starting fights that lead to a full-scale brawl inside and in the area surrounding Penn Station. Given the Rangers were dealing with a slew of injuries we found out after they were eliminated, had they made the Finals I suspect they would have been swept by the Blackhawks so losing Game 2 would have been likely and I suspect that was the fear of any such parties who demanded an attendance cap on NYRA, fearful of what could have happened (no matter how unlikely) if the Rangers had made the Stanley Cup Finals and had been hosting Game 2 immediately following the Belmont Stakes, especially with a lot of people who likely would have been inebriated in the area surrounding Penn Station.

    That was my view on that and why unlike Belmont, Monmouth won’t do a cap.

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