Naming a racehorse is often — but not always — an exercise in whimsy.
For every equine named something silly like Bodacious Tatas, there is another like — well, Cyberknife. The entrant in Saturday’s $1 million Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park is named after a non-invasive prostate cancer treatment tool.
The horse’s owner is Al Gold, a longtime Jersey Shore resident who came up with the name as a result of his life-saving cancer surgery at age 65.
“When I was first told I had cancer, fear overtook all logical thought,” Gold said about the diagnosis two years ago. “Will I survive, what kind of treatment will I have, what about my family? Learning about the CyberKnife System gave me hope for my future.”
Gold told the Louisville Courier-Journal, “A lot of the famous horses in history are one-word names. I figured it was a good name too, aside from the fact of getting the name out there.”
The horse lives up to the hype
Of course, horses don’t land spots in a prestigious race like the Haskell just because of a good backstory. Cyberknife dazzled in winning the Grade 1 Arkansas Derby in early April for his third win in six starts.
Gold, 66, has been attending horse races for 50 years and has owned some ponies for almost 20 years.
Gold’s friend group is an eclectic one that includes attorney Ron Riccio, the lawyer for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association throughout the six-year sports betting battle that ended with the U.S. Supreme Court siding with Riccio and the state.
Monmouth Park media director Tom Luicci also is part of that inner circle, with the group’s roots dating back to friendships with legendary Asbury Park sports columnist Bill Handleman, who died in 2010.
“Bill, he would have eaten this up,” Gold told the Asbury Park Press. “When Bill passed, both Tom and I talked every single day for years after that, and we still talk a lot. And Louie [Filoso] almost every day after. Because we all used to call Bill.
“He was the connector between us, and when he was gone we continued being friends, but a lot closer because we counted on him so much. He was that curmudgeon on the exterior, but inside, Bill was a really good person.”
The morning line Wednesday on Cyberknife — racing out of the first post position among seven rivals — was 6/1, trailing 7/5 favorite Taiba and 7/2 shot Jack Christopher.
Fixed-odds executive Dallas Baker of Betmakers also installed Cyberknife at 6/1 while Jack Christopher got the initial favorite slot at even money. Visitors to Monmouth Park who choose fixed odds will know that “the price you bet, is the price you get.”
With traditional parimutuel wagers, a bettor could take Taiba at 7/5 almost 10 minutes before the race — only to see that horse’s odds drop afterward as low as, for example, 3/5 if wealthy gamblers jumped in on the horse at the last minute.
Cyberknife trainer Brad Cox said on the phone during Wednesday’s media day that the horse was en route to the track at that time.
“I think there’s more in the tank — we haven’t yet seen the best Cyberknife,” Cox said. “If he can move forward, he’s a major player [in the Haskell].”
Even Cyberknife’s disappointing 18th-place finish out of 20 horses in the Kentucky Derby hasn’t fazed Cox, who said he was appreciative that jockey Florent Geroux “didn’t beat him up” in a pointless effort to finish another place or two better. Cyberknife was sixth at the half-mile mark but couldn’t match a fast pace.
This will be Cyberknife’s first race in New Jersey, and the rooting contingent is expected to be a large one.
“I can’t think of a race that Al would want to win more than the Haskell, and that includes the Kentucky Derby,” Riccio told Bloodhorse. “Monmouth Park is where his lifelong friends are and his kids are. It’s a big coming-home party for him. Win, lose, or draw, it will be an exciting day.”
More Jersey ties
Regulars at Monmouth Park who can’t resist a wager on any horse with legendary jockey Paco Lopez aboard will see their loyalty tested at the Haskell with Lopez riding 30/1 longshot gelding One Time Willard. The horse’s only win was at the Oceanport track in a 5 1/2-furlong sprint in May.
Benevengo, a 20/1 longshot, won a mile and 1/16th race at Monmouth Park on June 24.
Cox and Geroux, meanwhile, seek a repeat win in the Haskell, as Mandaloun was elevated to first last year after Hot Rod Charlie was disqualified.
The Haskell Stakes will be shown live on CNBC as part of NBC Sports’ Road to the Breeders’ Cup series, with the show airing from 5 to 6 p.m.
General admission on Saturday is $20, and parking is free.