OCEANPORT, N.J. — Not again.
That was the reaction of owner Gary West when the inquiry sign flashed after Maximum Security crossed the finish line first in the $1 million Haskell Invitational Saturday evening at hot and steamy Monmouth Park.
Unlike in the Kentucky Derby, the stewards let the result stand this time, vaulting Maximum Security to top of the 3-year-old thoroughbred division.
“My heart skipped a beat the first time I saw it,” West said of the inquiry sign after Maximum Security crossed the finish line 1 1/4 lengths ahead of trainer Bob Baffert’s Mucho Gusto. “The first time I saw the replay, I thought there was no way they can take this horse down. I’m not a steward but I did not think he did anything that cost. … The other horse was going backward at the time.”
West, who is still fighting the Derby disqualification in federal court in Kentucky, is certain he has the best colt in the land
“If it doesn’t, I don’t know when a division has a clear-cut leader,” he said. “Am I prejudiced, of course I am.”
The Haskell capped a long day that included a 4 1/2-hour delay triggered by intense heat and the safety concerns for the horses and riders. It led to the cancellation of six races and the delay in six stakes, including the Haskell, the biggest race in Monmouth’s meet.
When racing resumed around 6 p.m., the stakes went off without a hitch until the Haskell.
There was no doubt Maximum Security got to the finish line first.
However, the stewards posted the inquiry sign. Videotape replays showed King for a Day had to check when Maximum Security and Mucho Gusto stormed past.
The race was reviewed and the inquiry sign came down quickly, unlike the Derby when there was a 22-minute delay before Country House was elevated to the top spot and Maximum Security was dropped to 17th place. It was the first time a horse that crossed the finish line first in the Derby was disqualified.
This was one of the most bizarre days in the 52-year history of the Haskell. It also was just another weird twist in the 3-year-old picture.
There was the Kentucky Derby disqualification. A riderless horse in the Preakness. Three different winners of the Triple Crown races.
The latest turn came Saturday as the extreme temperature and a heat index value reaching 107— caused track officials to order a delay after the running of the first two races on the 14-race card.
The Haskell went off at 8:11 p.m., 2 hours, 24 minutes after its scheduled start. The field was reduced to six horses when third-place Belmont States finisher Joevia scratched after the delay.
King for a Day, who beat Maximum Security in the Pegasus here last month, and the four of the other five colts were closely bunched for the early going with only Everfast trailing.
Around the far turn, Maximum Security and jockey Luis Saez and Mucho Gusto and rider Joe Talamo charged around King for a Day, who was on the rail.
Maximum Security was in the middle lane with Mucho Gusto on the outside. As they turned for home, Maximum Security seemed to put King for a Day and jockey John Velazquez in tight quarters. The only question was whether Maximum Security committed a foul.
Velasquez refused to comment about the incident but he seemed annoyed.
The Jason Servis-trained Maximum Security covered the distance in 1:47.56 and paid $3.60, $2.60 and $2.20.
West and Servis are thinking about running Maximum Security next month in the Travers at Saratoga.
Mucho Gusto returned $3.40 and $2.80. Spun To Run finished third and paid $5.60 to show.
“That was exciting,” said Baffert, who was denied a ninth Haskell win. “I’m glad they didn’t disqualify him. That would have been awful.”
For the second straight day, the National Weather Service posted an excessive heat warning advisory Saturday, with near steady temperatures in the lower 90s in Monmouth County. The heat index was 103 by the time racing resumed.
Animal rights activists protested outside the New Jersey Shore track before the first race was to run.
Dennis Drazin, chairman and chief executive of Darby Development, operators of Monmouth Park, said a group of track, state and independent veterinarians monitored the heat for days and felt it was safe to race.
“However, given the heightened concern from the public about the heat, and in the interest of the safety of the horses and jockeys, we’ve decided to proceed with an abundance of caution, to cancel the remaining nonstakes races and to delay the six stakes races,” he said.
None of the horses who competed in the eight races run showed any sign of heat exhaustion. They were hosed down with water after the races.
With racing under pressure because of many horse deaths horses in California, most East coast tracks on Friday canceled their Saturday cards, including Saratoga Race Course.
“It would have created additional momentum to the crisis that already exists because of California problems,” Drazin said of a possible death of a horse. “We’re on the cusp of a crisis in the industry.”
A crowd of 37,186 attended last year’s Haskell. When the announcement came of canceled races and the delayed stakes, fans streamed to the exits. The track announced an attendance of 25,173 but many left before the Haskell.
Drazin said no decision had been made on how to compensate fans who paid for admission and parking. The track canceled its card planned for Sunday.
NBC was going to televise the Haskell live when it had a 5:47 p.m. post time, but it ended up streaming the race live on its digital platform.
Midnight Bisou won her fifth straight stakes this year, capturing the $150,000 Molly Pitcher with Mike Smith riding.
In other stakes, Just Howard edged Divisidero by a head in the $150,000 Oceanport; Justaholic ($5) won the $75,000 Wolf Hill; War Story ($16) took the $200,000 Monmouth Cup and I’m So Fancy ($5.80) captured the $150,000 WinStar Matchmaker.