Two summer stakes races rich in history and purse money lie ahead for 3-year-olds. Each contest is worth $1 million.
The 45th Haskell Invitational, scheduled on July 29, is named for the first president and chairman of the Monmouth Park Jockey Club who served for two decades until his death in 1966.
The track on the Jersey Shore has had more ups and downs than the stock market since its opening on July 4, 1870. By 1890, it was completely rebuilt.
But the following year, Monmouth’s meeting was moved to Jerome Park in New York because of repressive legislation against gambling. Then the track was shuttered for more than half a century.
Amory L. Haskell, vice president in charge of General Motors’ export division after serving in the Navy during World War I, led a successful fight in 1939 to legalize parimutuel wagering in New Jersey. Although World War II delayed construction of a new facility, it finally was completed and opened in 1946.
In 1968, Monmouth directors honored Haskell’s memory with the Haskell Handicap for older horses. In 1981, the race was made an invitation-only stakes for 3-year-olds at 1 1/8 miles with a purse of $200,000.
Serena’s Song won the 1995 race when the purse was hiked to $500,000. A year later, Skip Away banked most of the $750,000. In 1997, Touch Gold followed his victory in the Belmont Stakes with a triumph in the Haskell when its value was hiked by $250,000.
The 143rd Travers, at 1 ¼ miles on Aug. 25, is the oldest major thoroughbred race in the United States staged at the oldest track in America.
A four-day experiment that began at Saratoga Raceway on Aug. 3, 1863 was such a huge success that an American boxing champion, lawyer, grandfather of Winston Churchill, and a horseman decided to expand and move across the street in Saratoga Springs and erect a larger facility to accommodate bigger crowds.
They called it Saratoga Race Course in the area where the first thoroughbred contest in this country was held in 1847. The principle players were:
William R. Travers, successful stock broker and lawyer who was named president of the Saratoga Association. He was such a force in racing that the track’s premier stakes race bears his name.
John “Old Smoke” Morrissey, former bare-knuckle champ, gambler and later a lawmaker on state and national levels that once was a New York gang member.
Leonard Walter Jerome, flamboyant entrepreneur, father of Churchill’s mother and another successful stock speculator known as “the King of Wall Street.”
John R. Hunter, whose horses ran on both sides of the Atlantic and co-owned the first winner of the Travers with Travers: Kentucky.
Over the years, quite a few exceptional runners have won the race: Point Given, 2001 Preakness-Belmont winner; Thunder Gulch, ’95 Derby-Belmont victor; Holy Bull, ’94 Horse of the Year; Alydar, ’78 Triple Crown runner-up to Affirmed; Whirlaway; ’41 Triple Crown champ; and Man o’ War, ’30, who captured the Preakness and Belmont, but didn’t run in the Kentucky Derby.