Heatwave pressure cancels horse races, delays $1M Haskell to 8 p.m.
OCEANPORT — Racing officials reacted to mounting pressure on Saturday and canceled six non-stakes horse races and delayed the $1 million Haskell Invitational by two hours into the evening as a result of near-100-degree temperatures.
Monmouth Park and its operators, Darby Development, had insisted that the races could go on as scheduled Saturday because of the safety measures they had put in place for the horses and the riders.
But social media backlash from people who felt that the horses' wellbeing was being risked appears to have had an affect, pushing the post time of the final race close to sunset. The final race was supposed to be broadcast on NBC before the schedule change.
Activists at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have promised to press animal cruelty charges if any horses are harmed.
“We’ve been carefully monitoring the heat for days, including today, and we have a staff of veterinarians and state veterinarians, independent vets and consultants, all of whom tell us it’s safe to run, that we’re below the level required for the recommendation for cancellation," Darby Development Chairman and CEO Dennis Drazin said.
“However, given the heightened concern from the public about the heat, and in the interest of the safety of the horses, we’ve decided to proceed with an abundance of caution, to cancel the remaining non-stakes races and to delay the six stakes races until a later post time starting at 6 p.m., with those races 25 minutes apart. The Haskell Invitational will now have a post time of 8:05 p.m."
Drazin added that they were “doing this to err on the side of caution.”
The announcement was made after the first two races, which had been delayed by half an hour after Gov. Phil Murphy called Drazin to register his concerns, the Asbury Park Press reported.
The new schedule was announced just before 2 p.m., when the temperature at the park was about 96 degrees and under an Excessive Heat Warning from the National Weather Service.
Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow expected the temperature at the racetrack to be about 89 degrees by 8 p.m. But the heat index — what the temperature will feel like — will still be as high as 100.
Temperatures were expected to drop to no cooler than 79 degrees by midnight.