Attendance and wagering at Monmouth Park's signature Haskell Invitational on Sunday missed track owners' expectations, as Preakness Stakes runner-up Bodemeister called out sick and Belmont Stakes champ Union Rags retired before the race.
"If we had those two horses, we would have had 10,000 more people show up," said Dennis Drazin, president of Monmouth Park operator, the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen's Association. "We still had a good but small field, with the best horses remaining in training in the country. But next year, we hope we won't lose the top horses in the country due to the Triple Crown."
According to a track spokesman, 35,253 patrons attended the Haskell, with on-track wagering totaling $2.6 million. Compared to 2011's big event, that was nearly 3,000 fewer patrons and $400,000 less in total on-track wagering, the spokesman said.
According to Drazin, in the past, Monmouth Park hosted at least one Triple Crown winner at the Haskell Invitational, which he said "creates more excitement for the second half of the season … and the more excitement you have, the more people you get."
"One of the first races out of the box for the second half of the season is the Haskell. You have to start early in the campaign and stay in touch with people throughout the first half of the season to get the excitement going," Drazin said. "We're going to focus on recruiting those top horses for next year, and hope they won't have to retire like I'll Have Another and Union Rags had to retire this year."
Drazin said horse trainer Bob Baffert helped Monmouth Park avoid a steeper loss in attendance and wagering by entering Belmont Stakes runner-up Paynter — which ended up winning the Haskell — in Union Rags' place.
Aside from building support among trainers, Drazin said another way for Monmouth Park to offset losses if top thoroughbreds withdraw from future races is to build more off-track wagering parlors in the state.
"We have the right to build six more, and we're identifying two sites in the next few weeks. We think that will put another $15 million to $20 million into purses," Drazin said. "If you have the highest purses, you get a better field size and better quality horses … and it increases betters' appetite for your race, not only locally but throughout the country. With more OTW, I can see the Haskell becoming a weekend event, which would get more excitement and wagering for racing here over a longer term."
Off-track wagering for Sunday's event totaled $10.2 million, compared to approximately $11 million in 2011, the spokesman said.