Even though the clock is ticking fast, it still feels like Triple Crown winner Justify is going to race on the Jersey Shore in the $1 million Grade 1 Haskell Invitational. But who knew that his run there July 29 might include a bonus that gives his connections a big-money futures bet on Super Bowl LIII?
It is part of the bonus package that Monmouth Park has dangled in front of WinStar CEO Elliott Walden and trainer Bob Baffert, all tied in to the track’s new sports book that William Hill christened three weeks ago.
“Given the sports book we have now, we’re interested in attaching a bonus to winning the Haskell of having a pretty substantial Super Bowl bet where (connections) can parlay it into a big number,” said Dennis Drazin, who is in his seventh year running Monmouth Park.
Yes, this is the same Dennis Drazin, attorney at law, who has been credited with devising the legal pick-and-roll that got the U.S. Supreme Court to throw out the nationwide ban on sports gambling.
How the bonus will work was still being negotiated this week with WinStar, its partner the China Horse Club and with Baffert, who has won the Haskell a record eight times.
For his part Baffert said he has not decided yet when Justify will race again. He canceled plans for a breeze this week, saying that the big chestnut was still regaining his racing weight and that a southern California heat wave made any serious training counterproductive. But he did not rule out going back to Monmouth.
If Justify looks ready to Baffert, what about the bonus? The basics are nothing out of the ordinary. There would be extra money for Team Justify just for showing up with the Triple Crown. The same thing was baked into the Haskell three years ago, when the race’s purse was upped to $1.75 million to attract American Pharoah, and separate bonuses were paid to owner Ahmed Zayat and to Baffert.
But now there is a Monmouth Park sports book to promote, and Drazin wants to convince Walden and Baffert to make a free bet that would resonate six months after Justify raced in the Haskell.
“In the winner’s circle, the trainer and the owner connections will decide what their bets are for the Super Bowl,” Drazin told VSiN. “They’ll get a future Super Bowl pick at that point at whatever the odds are. By the same token, for all I know, they may say to us, ‘Hey, nice idea. We’d like to go with you, but we’d rather put the money in our pocket, and we don’t want to gamble with it.’ That’s going to be up to them.”
This was actually Plan B for Drazin, who first hatched the idea of a $5 million bonus if Justify were to follow up his Triple Crown by then winning the Haskell, the Travers and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. But he realized that with a reported $75 million Coolmore stud deal simmering, WinStar and the China Horse Club might not be eager to think more than one race ahead.
“We felt that to require them to commit to that series in order to win the bonus was not the best thing to do in the world,” Drazin said. “I’m not privy to the exact deal for the breeding rights, but it sounds to me like it’s a very huge number by my standards. Does it really make a difference how much money you win in a race when you’re talking about a horse like that? If it was my horse I’d be more concerned about making sure he’s going to win out the rest of his career and then have a great stud career.”
For Drazin, 66, a New Jersey native and a racehorse owner himself, it was just another challenge that required some outside-the-box thinking. On a larger scale it was the same kind of thinking that got the Supreme Court to allow legal sports betting in New Jersey and other states that wanted it. Rather than fight for the right to have it, Drazin and the legal team led by former solicitor general Ted Olson took a different angle. They successfully argued that under the Constitution’s 10th Amendment, the federal government could not muscle states like New Jersey into enforcing the sports-gambling ban itself.
After the Supreme Court ruling May 14, the New Jersey legislature had to then be convinced that professional sports leagues and the NCAA were not entitled to a piece of the betting action, a percentage that they have been pushing under the guise of an integrity fee.
“We had to fight off the integrity request, which was all bull (bleep) from day one,” Drazin said. “Give me a break.”
Now that sports gambling is a reality in New Jersey, Drazin said it will complement horse racing, which can use every shot in the arm it can get. With the sports book creating more foot traffic for Monmouth Park, Drazin is more optimistic than ever about the future of the track, which stands to be buoyed by purse increases born from its share of the sports-betting handle.
“Monmouth Park will always be one of the jewels in racing that should be preserved forever,” he said. “I worry on a day-to-day basis about the day-to-day operations. But I’m no longer worried about the long-term survival of Monmouth Park.”
Because of a state-budget stalemate, Drazin did have to fend off the threat of a temporary closing of the track last Sunday. And he will need to invest a sizable chunk of change in an insurance policy to protect the track against a long shot winning the Super Bowl for Justify’s connections. But where there is a problem, Drazin seems to have a mind that concocts a creative solution.
“I wake up with these ideas,” Drazin said. “But what can I say?”
Racing notes and opinions
It may not be the feature, but it is the best race on Saturday’s Stars and Stripes Day card at Belmont Park. The $1 million Grade 1 Belmont Oaks Invitational at 5:46 p.m. EDT may also be the most attractive betting race that we see all summer. It has to be good when the 1¼-mile turf event for 3-year-old fillies attracts a field of 10, and the morning-line favorite is no shorter than 7-2. In a rematch of the top three from last month’s nine-furlong, Grade 3 Wonder Again during Belmont Stakes week, runner-up Significant Form (7-2), winner La Signare (4-1) and third-place Mighty Scarlett (8-1) will be challenged by the likes of Coolmore’s Irish filly Athena (9-2). The choice here, though, is mid-pack stalker Toinette (5-1), a neck winner in her stakes debut in the Grade 3 Edgewood on the Kentucky Oaks undercard. That was also her most recent race. Her prep for that was an 8½-furlong allowance race in which she beat La Signare.
Will their encore be as good as their first act? Analyze It (5-2) is favored to avenge his neck loss to Catholic Boy (4-1) in last month’s Grade 3 Pennine Ridge when they go a furlong farther on the same inner-turf course in the $1.2 million Grade 1 Belmont Derby Invitational at 6:50 p.m. EDT Saturday. The Coolmore colt Hunting Horn (7-2) was a 4½-length winner in the Group 3 Hampton Court at Royal Ascot. Getting Lasix for the first time and Ryan Moore in the saddle, he is the pick here to give trainer Aidan O’Brien his second win in the last three runnings of this race.
The first of Saturday’s graded stakes at Belmont is formally the $300,000 Grade 3 Dwyer Stakes. But it could also be known as the Redemption Mile. The one-turn dirt race at 4:36 p.m. EDT will be the first for Mendelssohn (8-5) since he was mugged twice in the first quarter-mile of the Kentucky Derby before being eased to finish last. O’Brien has said that if Mendelssohn does well Saturday, he could be looking at staying in the U.S. to race in the Pennsylvania Derby and ultimately the Breeders’ Cup Classic. A 14-length maiden winner, Rugbyman (2-1) looks to bounce back from a disappointing second last month in the Easy Goer. Noble Indy (7-2) will be out to rebound from a last-place finish in the Belmont Stakes and is the choice here to lead the whole way and win it.
Baffert’s speed horse Dr. Dorr (3-1) is the favorite against 2017 Belmont Stakes winner Tapwrit (7-2) and stable mate Hoppertunity (9-2) in the $700,000 Grade 2 Suburban on the dirt at 6:18 p.m. EDT Saturday. But the 1¼-mile distance proved too much for Dr. Dorr when he faded to second in the Gold Cup at Santa Anita on May 26. Tapwrit and Hoppertunity may be more suited to going longer. So the money here will be on War Story (5-1). He was second to Hoppertunity in last month’s Grade 2 Brooklyn, but he cuts back a furlong to get the distance that saw him finish a handy fourth behind the talented trio of Gun Runner, Collected and West Coast in last year’s Breeders’ Cup Classic.
Ron Flatter’s racing column is posted every Friday morning at VSiN.com. You may also hear the Ron Flatter Racing Pod, also posted Friday mornings at VSiN.com/podcasts. Guests this week include Monmouth Park boss Dennis Drazin as well as longtime horseplayer Eric Wing of HorseTourneys.com previewing Saturday’s Stars and Stripes Day. Please subscribe and post a review where available at Apple Podcasts, Google Play Music and Stitcher.