Monmouth Park officials said July 30 that they reached out to other tracks to try to create a post-Triple Crown three-race series that would have carried a bonus and been an attractive target for the connections of Triple Crown winner American Pharoah .
Dennis Drazin, advisor to Monmouth owner Darby Development, said when the series didn't come together, the Oceanport, N.J. track opted to use money it had set aside for its share of the bonus to increse the William Hill Haskell Invitational Stakes (gr. I) purse. The afternoon of July 29, Monmouth announced that the Haskell purse would be increased from $1 million to $1.75 million.
"We were trying to put together a three-way series that would create a bonus and be like the next three-race series after the Triple Crown," Drazin said. "We tried to work with a couple of other states to try put together that bonus and we set aside an amount that we were willing to contribute to that.
"It didn't come together for various reasons that aren't important, but we decided yesterday to put the money into the race instead."
Dallas Stewart, trainer of Xpressbet.com Preakness Stakes (gr. I) runner-up Tale of Verve, questioned the late timing of the purse increase announcement. Stewart will saddle Tale of Verve in the Aug. 1, $750,000 West Virginia Derby (gr. II) but said if he'd known about the total $1.75 million Haskell purse, he may have made a different call for Tale of Verve, who was one of 35 horses invited to the Haskell which initally listed a $1 million purse.
"I'm not saying I would have gone to the Haskell for sure but I would have at least talked it over with my owner," Stewart said. "They gave us a bite but didn't offer the whole cake."
Drazin said the final decision on the purse increase wasn't made until Wednesday. He said the initial thought was to add $500,000 to the purse, to match the $1.5 million purse of the 2001 Haskell won by dual classic winner and Point Given, who would be named Horse of the Year. Drazin said track officials then thought that going to $1.75 million would be a chance to make history with the highest purse in New Jersey, give local horsemen a shot at the kitty, and attract a few more horses.
"We thought this was the right thing to do. We went through a lot of considerations and really didn't make a decision until yesterday," Drazin said.
The purse increase did help convince trainer Rick Violette Jr. to start Upstart in the Haskell rather than the $600,000 Jim Dandy Stakes (gr. II) Aug. 1 at Saratoga Race Course, where the two-time grade II winner also was entered.
Trainer Todd Pletcher had been leaning toward the Haskell for grade I winner Competitive Edge , who also is entered in the Jim Dandy, and the purse increase likely made that call easier. Pletcher even added two horses late to the Haskell field, in Repole Stable's Nonna's Boy and Dontbetwithbruno, the respective one-two finishers in the July 18 Lamplighter Stakes at Monmouth.
Drazin also noted that the purse increase honors racing's 12th Triple Crown winner.
"We did this to try and honor the horse," Drazin said. "This is about American Pharoah. We thought he deserved it."
Darby Development president Bob Kulina said Wednesday that the purse increase makes sense for all involved.
"We've all waited a long time to see a Triple Crown-winning horse and we're thankful to the Zayat family and trainer Bob Baffert for choosing to showcase their champion at Monmouth Park," Kulina said. "It will be a historic day for horse racing, Monmouth Park, and the State of New Jersey.
"All participants will share in this purse increase. We've had purse increases to the Haskell before, but have never seen a Triple Crown winner, so to make this one a record is only fitting."