Large crowds came out to celebrate the start of another horse racing season at Monmouth Park in Oceanport.
Monmouth Park is no stranger to offering lucrative bonuses, particularly when it comes to champion horses from the stable of Bob Baffert, and is considering dangling millions of dollars as an incentive to bring the Baffert-trained Kentucky Derby winner, Justify, to the Oceanport track this summer.
The track added $500,000 to bring the Haskell Invitational purse to $1.5 million in 2001 when it secured Point Given, the Preakness and Belmont winner who was Horse of the Year as a 3-year-old. And three years ago Monmouth Park added $750,000 to the Haskell purse when American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner in 37 years, ran in Oceanport, giving Baffert his eighth Haskell victory.
Now, Justify’s brilliant performance in the Kentucky Derby has the racing world, including Monmouth Park boss Dennis Drazin, buzzing about the possibility of another Triple Crown winner.
And this time Drazin, the chairman and CEO of Darby Development LLC, which operates the track, is thinking big. Really big.
On Sunday, Drazin was shopping premium quotes on $5 million bonuses for a horse to win a series of races. One option is aimed directly at bringing Justify, a heavy favorite to win the Preakness, the second jewel of the Triple Crown, to the Jersey Shore, while the second would involve him as well.
In the first scenario, a Triple Crown winner would have to go on and win the Haskell, the Travers Stakes at Saratoga and Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs to earn the $5-million. The second scenario would involve any winner of a Triple Crown race winning the same gauntlet of races.
The Haskell is to be run on July 29, the Travers is set for Aug. 25 and the Breeders’ Cup Classic will be contested Nov. 3.
Currently, the quotes for such an insurance policy run between 6 and 8 percent of the bonus, or between $300,000 and $400,000, with premiums expected to rise after the Preakness.
“I think Justify is a great horse, and I think he will win the Triple Crown,’’ Drazin said. “But nothing is assured, so with the odds of winning the Triple Crown, that policy costs less because there’s more of a risk, so that’s a little more affordable.
“But I started thinking that maybe what I want to do for Monmouth Park is hedge my bet, and say the quote should be for a Triple Crown race winner who then comes to Monmouth and wins the Haskell and then goes on to win the Travers and Breeders Cup.’’
It could end up being an incredibly lucrative inducement for the partnership, which includes WinStar Farm, that owns Justify, or multiple owners.
Monmouth Park already offers a $50,000 bonus for each Triple Crown race win to both the owner and trainer.
Last summer, there were no Triple Crown race winners in the starting gate on Haskell Day. The 2016 Haskell featured a showdown between Kentucky Derby winner Nyquist and Preakness winner Exaggerator.
When American Pharoah ran in the 2015 Haskell, a record crowd of 60,983 showed up.
“We tried to put something like this together with other tracks for American Pharoah,’’ Drazin said. “Parx wouldn’t put up any money, so there’s no sense in including them in the package. We reached out to New York then and (racing secretary Martin) Panza was willing to contribute, but not to the level (American Pharoah owner) Ahmed Zayat was looking for at the time.’’
Stephen Edelson is an Asbury Park Press columnist: email@example.com; @SteveEdelsonAPP