OCEANPORT — The oppressive heat and humidity expected to make Saturday and Sunday the hottest weekend of the year has PETA concerned about the horses running in the $1 million TVG.com Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park.

A Heat Advisory is in effect for Saturday and Sunday with temperatures in the 90s and high humidity combining for a Heat Index of 100-105 degrees.

The park's biggest racing day of the year gets underway Saturday at noon with the first of 14 races. The Haskell is scheduled for 5:45 p.m. The picnic area will be open, activities for families will be available and The Carnival Dogs will perform. Another day of racing is scheduled for Sunday.

PETA sent a letter to Monmouth Park Director of Racing and Racing Secretary John Heims Friday asking him to suspend racing until the heat stress index drops below 160.

"Horses are pushed to the limit every time they race, and the additional stress of skyrocketing temperatures can cause brain damage, collapse as a result of heatstroke, and fatal cardiac trauma," PETA wrote in its letter.

If the races go off as scheduled, PETA said additional protocols should be implemented including allocating more time for thorough pre-race exams to identify any signs of distress, dehydration or heatstroke.

New Jersey 101.5 Chief Meteorologist Dan Zarrow said the heat stress index is a relatively new measurement used especially by athletes.

"My understanding is that it takes heat index to the next level quantifying how hot and humid conditions are actually affecting a human body. Or an animal," Zarrow said.

PETA said that the Maryland Jockey Club at Laurel Park in Maryland has canceled races Sunday as dangerous temperatures are forecast there too.

Racing at Monmouth Park
Racing at Monmouth Park (Monmouth Park)
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Monmouth Park: Jockey, horse safety is the first concern

Park spokesman Tom Luicci told New Jersey 101.5 said they are well aware of the heat and precautions are being taken for both the jockeys and the horses.

"With what the forecast is for Saturday I think we're going to be OK. We are taking precautions we're just not going to detail them," Luicci said. "We worry about the jockeys and the horses. They're our first priority."

The 2019 Haskell was delayed after it too was scheduled to be run in heat similar the coming weekend. After an outcry that included support from Gov. Phil Murphy, the day's races were moved to the late afternoon.

The racetrack's plan in 2019 included:

  • Constant consultation with state veterinarians
  • Extra medical personnel on site for people.
  • Ice containers stationed throughout the track and where horses walk in from the track.
  • Extra hoses for horses to cool down before and after races.
  • A misting system in the paddock.
  • Shortened post parades.

Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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