Jason Beem's Thursday Column for July 20, 2023
A good Thursday to you all! It’s Haskell week at Monmouth Park and it’s a super exciting edition of the race. Mage makes his first start since the Preakness (G1), and Tapit Trice and Arabian Knight contribute to what should be a fun running of this historic Grade 1 race. In honor of the Haskell Stakes, I wanted to write about the 2019 Haskell Stakes, which is the only Haskell I’ve ever been to at the track. It was also the running of what I’ve dubbed “The Hottest Haskell.”
In 2019, I was filling in announcing for the first couple of months of the season at Monmouth Park, and to be honest, it was a total blast. I loved everything about Monmouth. The grandstand is awesome, as is the open-air announcing booth, good racing, and so much more. I also used to try to sign off quickly at the end of a card just to make it down to the paddock area to hear Frank Sinatra singing “Summer Wind” as I walked out. It’s just a very cool unique Monmouth thing.
My fill-in job finished up a few weeks before the 2019 Haskell but I was invited to come down and help with media for the day. The race was slated to feature Maximum Security trying to turn the tables on King For A Day, the horse that had upset him in the Pegasus Stakes just a few weeks before. Mucho Gusto also showed up for Bob Baffert, as he always has one of the Haskell favorites each year, and this year will be no exception with Arabian Knight.
The minutes following the Haskell Invitational on Saturday were eerily similar to the agonizing minutes that followed the Kentucky Derby.— TwinSpires Racing 🏇 (@TwinSpires) July 22, 2019
But Maximum Security survived the inquiry
See @J_Keelerman's recap of Saturday's headlinerhttps://t.co/qGWgxTW8Kg pic.twitter.com/xDvqctJjqi
The week of the Haskell, a really strong heat wave came through the East Coast and it was my first summer back on that side of the country. I was about 100 pounds heavier than I am today and I wasn’t as heat acclimated, so truthfully anything over 80 degrees and I was complaining. The day before the Haskell, I believe it was in the low 90s and beyond humid. There has to be a word for how humid it was because just humid doesn’t do it justice. I went out to the paddock to do a quick video with Nikki from the marketing department; though we were out there for maybe a minute, I was drenched when we got back inside.
When Saturday rolled around, it was as hot as it was supposed to be. The heat index was below the maximum allowed for racing but there was some debate early in the day on whether or not the card would be run. If I remember correctly, the first race was run as was the second, and then the remainder of the card was postponed until the evening. Monmouth doesn’t have lights but surely the conditions would be better once the sun was much lower. All of the races were canceled except for the stakes races later in the day, which were to start at 6 p.m.
I looked at my supervisor and asked what I should do, and he said, “Go home and relax in the air conditioning.” That’s just what I did. The races were run pretty quickly once 6 p.m. rolled around. And there was some star power there that night. Midnight Bisou won the Molly Pitcher. One thing from that evening that stood out to me was that of the small crowd that came back for the nighttime races, Mike Smith stopped and signed every autograph and took every picture on the walk back to the jocks' room. I was always impressed by that because the conditions were so tough and he had just ridden a horse in a race.
My job that evening was to collect quotes from the losing riders. I was kind of nervous about it just because I wasn’t sure how jockeys reacted to questions about their races after a loss. I remember going up to Julien Leparoux and Joe Talamo after the Haskell to ask about their trips and they couldn’t have been nicer and more gracious with their time. I did have one rider that clearly didn’t want to answer my questions and told me as much. That was kind of awkward, but in the heat of the moment, I totally got it.
I remember when the last race was over, I was about to leave when the TV department called my phone. They needed me to voiceover the replay show because the regular host who did it wasn’t feeling good from the heat. The voiceover mics were outside in the paddock, so I sat there and recorded little intros for each race that day while the TV manager held a fan pointed at me to keep some air movement as I read in the dark.
It was one of the stranger but more memorable days I’ve ever had at the races. Here’s hoping for a smoother and cooler Haskell this weekend!