Led by the $1 million Haskell Invitational Handicap on Sunday, August 8, Thoroughbreds will compete for $3.35 million in graded stakes when Monmouth Park opens its 72-day season Saturday, May 29.
The Haskell serves as the first major goal for three-year-olds following the Triple Crown. This was evident last year when the Bobby Frankel-trained Peace Rules, third in the Kentucky Derby, defeated Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Funny Cide. Funny Cide became the third three-year old Eclipse champion in a row to compete in the Haskell, following Haskell winners War Emblem and Point Given.
"We've stamped the Haskell as a race not to be missed on the road to the three-year old Eclipse award. It's a tremendous day for racing and the state of New Jersey," said George Zoffinger, President and CEO of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority.
The other Grade I race on the schedule, the $750,000 United Nations on July 3, remains a spot for the country's top turf runners. The U.N. was first contested in 1953 at Atlantic City Racecourse and has been won by such prominent horses as Manila, Fort Marcy and Dr. Fager. Balto Star won last year's contest, defeating four Grade I winners separated by only three and a half lengths.
The traditional Memorial Day weekend opening begins the stakes season with the $100,000 Red Bank Handicap (gr. III) and the $100,000 Jersey Derby (gr. III), known as the oldest Derby in the nation, first contested in 1864. Next up is the $100,000 Jersey Shore Breeders' Cup (gr. III) for three-year-olds at six furlongs on June 26. New Jersey-bred horse of the year Gators n Bears took the 2003 running.
The July 4th weekend will spotlight two outstanding stakes in the $750,000 United Nations and the $300,000 Molly Pitcher Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. II) for fillies and mares three years and up. Edward P. Evans' Grade I winner Summer Colony avenged her second-place finish in 2002 to capture the 2003 running.
The $100,000 Eatontown Handicap (gr. IIIT) will be run July 10 for fillies and mares three years old and up. On July 17 is the running of the $100,000 Long Branch Breeders' Cup (gr. III), which traditionally serves as one of the prep races for the $1,000,000 Haskell Invitational on August 8.
July 25 is the $100,000 Salvator Mile (gr. III), a popular spot for older horses going a flat mile.
Haskell Day also presents two turf races for older horses in the $100,000 Matchmaker Handicap (gr. IIIT) for fillies and mares and the $100,000 Oceanport Handicap (gr. IIIT) at a mile and a sixteenth.
The $200,000 Monmouth Breeders' Cup Oaks (gr. II) returns from a one-year hiatus on August 15 for 3 year old fillies at a mile and a sixteenth. First run in 1871, the oldest Oaks in America has hosted recent champion Silverbulletday and Breeders' Cup Distaff winners Spain and Unbridled Elaine. Finishing out the schedule is the $200,000 Philip H. Iselin Breeders' Cup Handicap (gr. III) on August 21 and the $100,000 Sapling (gr. III) for two-year olds at six furlongs.