OCEANPORT, N.J. — Maximum Security is going to have to share top billing in the $1 million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park with an unexpected foe – broiling heat.
The National Weather Service has issued an excessive heat warning for the Monmouth County through Sunday night, adding a seventh rival for the only horse to cross the finish line first in the Kentucky Derby and then be disqualified.
The forecast calls for temperatures to hit 95 degrees with heat index values reaching as much as 106.
“Our priority will be the safety of the horses, jockeys and our fans,” said Dennis Drazin, the chairman and chief executive of Darby Development LLC, operators of track on the New Jersey shore. “We will be in contact with the state veterinarians, and if we feel it’s unsafe for horses there are things we can do.”
The track has set up misting fans in the paddock and saddling areas for the 14-race card. It will employ shorter post parades before the start of races to limit track time for the horses. Drazin also said there is the possibility the Haskell might be delayed if it is too hot, possibly pushing it back an hour or so to 7 p.m. EDT.
With racing under pressure because of many horse deaths horses in California, several tracks Friday canceled their Saturday cards, including Saratoga Race Course and Finger Lakes in New York and Laurel Park in Maryland.
The Haskell Invitational is the signature event of the Monmouth Park meet, and this year’s race could establish Maximum Security as the leader in the 3-year-old thoroughbred season that has produced one surprise after another. Each Triple Crown race had a different winner.
If Maximum Security wins Saturday, he will be the only 3-year-old colt with two Grade 1 victories this year, having captured the Florida Derby in March. It would have been three had he not been disqualified in the Kentucky Derby.
Trainer Jason Servis is feeling more confident heading into this 1 1/8 mile race than he did last month when the colt finished second to trainer Todd Pletcher’s King for a Day in the Pegasus at Monmouth.
Servis said horses tend to have rollercoaster cycles and the Pegasus wasn’t surprising, especially after the colt stumbled at the start.
Maximum Security, with jockey Luis Saez, drew the outside No. 7 post and is the 8-5 morning-line favorite in a field filled with speed.
Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert, eyeing a record ninth Haskell win, is running Mucho Gusto. The 2-1 second choice is coming off two impressive wins in California, including one in the Affirmed on June 16. Regular rider Joe Talamo will break the colt from the No. 5 position.
King for a Day is the 5-2 third choice. Jockey John Velazquez will replace Joe Bravo, who filled in for him in the Pegasus. The colt drew the No. 1 post, which means he probably will have to go right to the lead.
After King for a Day, the rest of the field, in post-position order with jockey and odds, is: Joevia, Jose Lezcano, 10-1; Spun to Run, Paco Lopez, 15-1; Bethlehem Road, Luis Castro Rodriguez, 20-1; Mucho Gusto, Talamo, 2-1; Everfast, Julien Leparoux, 10-1; and Maximum Security, Saez, 8-5.
The Breeders’ Cup Challenge Series continues on NBC Sports with the Haskell Invitational from Monmouth Park on Saturday, July 20. Coverage runs from 5-6 p.m. ET and post time is scheduled for 5:47 p.m.