Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Monmouth Park Racetrack - Always a Safe Bet

Monmouth Park Racetrack - Always a Safe Bet
Written by NJ Historian

New Jersey is not usually a state associated with the excitement of high-energy horse racing. Even though New Jersey does not host any of the Triple Crown races, thoroughbred and harness racing can be found at one of the four tracks across the Garden State. Racing in New Jersey began as early as the 1850s, when the Monmouth County Agriculture Society was formed to hold an annual fair with harness racing in the Township of Freehold, although races may have been held there as early as the 1830s.

In the 1870s, racing emerged at the Jersey Shore. New York businessman John F. Chamberlain, New Jersey Senate President Amos Robbins, and Adams Express Company President John Hoey built a racetrack in Long Branch as a tourist attraction to increase summertime business under the name the Monmouth Park Association. Their idea of drawing in crowds with a racetrack was successful and the very first race was held on July 30, 1870. Their success only lasted for a few years and in 1873, the racetrack was forced to close due to financial difficulties.

In 1888, George L. Lorillard, D.D. Withers, G.P. Wetmore, and James Gordon Bennett devised a plan to reopen the track and once again bring racing to the Jersey shore. Over the next four years, the grounds were restored and the grandstand was rebuilt. The racetrack reopened to the public in 1882. A second racecourse was opened on 160 acres, adjacent to the original one, due to its increasing popularity in 1890. It was one of the finest facilities in the country and in some years offered the highest purse distribution of any track in North America.

Monmouth Park Racetrack, 1890.
But once again, the track's successes would not be long-lasting. Monmouth was forced to move its 1891 meeting to Jerome Park in New York because of continued repressive legislation against gambling in New Jersey. Monmouth reopened for its forty-six-day meetings in 1892 and 1893, but anti-gambling legislation passed on March 21, 1894 banned parimutuel betting on horses and forced the track to close its doors once again. In May of that same year, the Eatontown Township Committee ordered the seizure and sale of the Monmouth Park Association's grandstand and other property for the payment of back taxes and was sold on May 7 at a public auction. Between 1894 and 1946, horse racing was on hiatus in New Jersey.

In 1939, Amory L. Haskell of Red Bank, New Jersey successfully lobbied the New Jersey State Legislature to reverse the 1894 ban on parimutuel wagering for both the Standardbred and Thoroughbred industries. Upon its passage, Haskell immediately set out to build a new Monmouth Park Racetrack. The completion of the track was delayed by World War II and associated material shortages. The new Monmouth Park Racetrack, now located in Oceanport, opened to the public on June 19, 1946 before a crowd of 18,724. On July 25, 1950, 12,180 racing fans experienced the opening of the first turf race at Monmouth Park. In 1967, a one-eighth mile turf chute was installed diagonally across the infield allowing patrons a head-on view of the horses as they left the starting gate. Haskell served as president of Monmouth Park from opening day until he died on April 12, 1966 at the age of seventy-two.

The grandstand at Monmouth Park Racetrack, Oceanport, NJ.
Since then, New Jersey's horse racing industry has seen attendance continually swell and contract, largely due to economic conditions. Regardless, horses are a staple in New Jersey. There are more horses per square mile in New Jersey than in any other state and in 1977, became the official state animal. The legalization of parimutuel betting spurred the opening of other tracks in New Jersey. Garden State Park in Cherry Hill, opened July 7, 1942 (closed May 3, 2001), the Atlantic City Racetrack in Mays Landing opened July 22, 1946, and the Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford in 1976. The only surviving racetrack on its original site from the nineteenth century is the Freehold Raceway, located in Freehold Township, which began operating in 1853.

Despite the widespread popularity of the Triple Crown and Breeders' Cup, horse racing in New Jersey, and across the country, has seen a decline in attendance over the past few years. In an attempt to restore and reinvigorate the allure of racing for the next generation, America's Best Racing was initiated by the Jockey Club to attract a new, younger fan-base. The initiative is employing six young horse racing enthusiasts to travel across the country in a tour bus, to seventeen events at ten tracks. They are hosting celebrations in the cities with the best racing events, which included the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth Park Racetrack. The Haskell Invitational was conceived in 1968 when the Board of Directors of Monmouth Park Racetrack decided to honor its former President and Chairman Amory L. Haskell with the Amory L. Haskell Handicap, a race for older horses. In 1981, the race was made an invitation-only stakes for three-year-olds. This yearly event regularly draws crowds ranging from 35,000 - 40,000.

The paddock at Monmouth Park Racetrack, Oceanport, NJ.
Just as a day at the races drew crowds to the Jersey shore in the 1890s, Monmouth Park continues to draw large crowds today. A day at Monmouth is affordable, family-friendly, and steeped in tradition. Even if you are not into betting on the races, you can look at the horses, meet the jockeys, and picnic on the grounds. The park-like atmosphere, complete with fountains, terraces, and landscaping, is reminiscent of the expansive parks and gardens built during the Victorian era. Between races, I enjoyed a few visits to the paddock, where the horses are prepped and saddled before entering the track.

Although I am not a betting woman, I was given the opportunity to try betting on a few races thanks to the helpful racing ambassadors, who explained how to read the official program and determine the odds. Although it is not an exact science and purely luck, it is fun to see if you can determine the winner solely based on their past performances. The type of betting allowed at the tracks is called parimutuel, which is the French term for amongst ourselves, as in betting against one another. Betting at the racetrack, means betting against everyone else who has made the same wager in any race and not against the racetrack. The racetrack does not gain or lose any money in correlation to who wins or loses. Instead the racetrack takes a percentage from each dollar waged. Win, place, and show are typical wages someone may make. Placing a "win" bet means winning if the horse chosen makes first place. A "place" bet means winning if the horse chosen makes first or second place. A "show" bet means winning if the horse finishes first, second, or, third. Placing a bet is not difficult in itself, but determining which horse has the best chance of winning is more difficult! Although it may seem daunting for someone who has never tried it before, a day at the races can be a fun social affair with your family and friends. Imagine our Victorian ancestors in their formal attire placing a bet on "Old Bessy"!

Additional photos of my trip to Monmouth Park Racetrack on Pinterest

Monmouth Park Racetrack - July 27, 2013

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Very informative! Loved reading this :-)

We love Monmouth Park. My wife and I go a few times a month and my parents would dress up and go for dinner in the club house.

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