UPDATE: Several races have been canceled and the Haskell Invitational has been delayed past 8 p.m. as a result of the heat. Click to read the latest update.

OCEANPORT — THe $1 million TVG.com Haskell Invitational will go on as scheduled Saturday at Monmouth Park despite the 100-degree heatwave.

Monmouth Park and the track operator have explained the protocols they have put in place to protect the horses and riders in response to outrage and concern expressed on social media from people who felt the the safety of the horses was being risked for the sake of profit.

Fourteen races were scheduled to begin just after noon, culminating with the Haskell at 5:47 p.m.

The first race was delayed by half an hour after Gov. Phil Murphy called the racetrack's operator to express his concerns with the weather, the Asbury Park Press reported.

New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow called for temperatures of 95 to 100, with a heat index of 105 to 115 degrees, meaning it will feel hotter than a thermometer shows. The National Weather Service issued an Excessive Heat Warning for the entire state until 10 p.m. Sunday.

In an interview on race sponsor TVG's channel ,Dennis Drazin, chairman and CEO of track operator Darby Development, said that races are run at Gulfstream Park north of Miami almost daily in high humidity without problems.

"Horses have been racing for hundreds of years long before me without showing the stress of the heat," Drazin said.

Drazin said past Haskells have been run in 100-degree heat and he cited the 2009 Haskell Invitational, which featured Rachel Alexandra.

"It was extremely hot. There were these same conversations and everything went well," Drazin said.

Activists at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals have promised to press animal cruelty charges if any horses are harmed.

“Monmouth Park has chosen to put horses at risk. Postponing the Haskell was the obvious and humane choice. PETA will be watching, and if any horses are harmed, we will go straight to law enforcement," PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo said.

Ross Licitra, head of the Monmouth County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said his office has received many phone calls about the race but the agency is not empowered to stop it.

The park said its precautions include extra medical personnel; ice containers stationed throughout the track and where horses walk in from the track; extra water hoses for horses to cool down before and after races; a misting system in the paddock; and shortened post parades.

Contact reporter Dan Alexander at Dan.Alexander@townsquaremedia.com or via Twitter @DanAlexanderNJ

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