OCEANPORT — Monmouth Park CEO Dennis Drazen says he thought that by applying longtime protocols it would be safe to run the TVG.com $1 million Haskell Invitational on Saturday — even though it meant horses would be running in roughly 100 degree temperatures.

The track found itself in a difficult position in the days leading to the track's biggest race of the year, which puts the track in the national spotlight with a broadcast of the Haskell on NBC. After running the first two races on Saturday, it was decided to postpone the rest of the races away from the strongest sunlight of the day until 6 p.m. and run the Haskell after 8 p.m.

Temperatures were still about 90 degrees at that time of day.

"We felt that by using the protocols we've been using long before I was born, that it's safe to race. They race in hot temperatures. They race at Gulfrstream all the time, California. We've done this before," Drazin told title sponsor TVG.com, citing previous Haskells run in very hot weather.

Drazin said he felt that the track did a good job of taking extra precautions because of the heat and felt conditions were "considerably below the threshold that's required for the safety of horses."

But social media added new pressures to the decision-making process.

"There's a more heightened attention to the race tracks and those who want to protect the horses, particularly PETA, who certainly are present and conscious and contacting the public and getting involved in expressing their opinions," Drazin said.

Drazin said he and his team consulted with the state racing commission before changing the times of the races, and the commission approved the running of the first two races. The jockeys were fine with the conditions, as were the veterinarians watching the horses, he said.

"In racing you can have an incident even under the perfect conditions," Drazin said. "I felt that given all the heightened scrutiny the smarter thing to do, to protect the horses and make sure we're looking at this conservatively, was to cancel some of the non-stake races."

PETA Senior Vice President Kathy Guillermo in a statement to New Jersey 101.5 called the postponement "a win for the horses" and thanked Monmouth Park for taking action.

Guillermo said she did not hear of any horses adversely affected by the weather, "which may be because the race was postponed."

The whole day was off for Monmouth Park on Saturday, with a 32.3% reduction in attendance from 2018 with 25,173 in the stands, according to NJ.com. The on-track handle of $610,813 was down nearly 70% from 2018.

The total handle, including off-track betting figures, was $8,556,664, according to the report — down from $13.39 million in 2018.

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

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