Trainer Bob Baffert said the decision to enter War Emblem in the $1-million Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park Aug. 4 wasn't tied to a $50,000 appearance fee he is to receive from the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which operates the racetrack.
Baffert issued the statement Aug. 2, the eve of his marriage to Jill Moss, in response to media inquiries.
"The decision to enter the horse was made by Richard Mulhall, manager of the Thoroughbred Corp., and me after we discussed options for the horse over several weeks," Baffert said in the statement. "I am concerned that the nature of the appearance fee has been mischaracterized, and that some might perceive that the fee influenced our decision to enter.
"Upon additional discussion with the Thoroughbred Corp., we have decided that half of the fee will be donated to the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation in memory of Prince Ahmed bin Salman. Fees for public appearances and other promotional work are common in other sports. In consultation with my clients, I will continue to accept these fees in the future where warranted."
George Zoffinger, chief executive of the NJSEA, said the Baffert fee was a "business decision." Zoffinger, who assumed his post in March, said: "I'd do it for any trainer if they had the top horse of the year."
The Newark Star-Ledger reported that Baffert received a $50,000 fee from the NJSEA in 2001 when Horse of the Year Point Given went to Monmouth for the Haskell. The purse of the race was raised by $500,000 to $1.5 million.
NJSEA executive vice president of racing Bruce Garland said appearance fees paid by the agency in the past have gone to jockeys, including Willie Shoemaker, Julie Krone, and Chris McCarron.