Amidst the country fair atmosphere at today’s thoroughbred horse races, it can be easy to forget the sheer amount of history at the country’s racetracks. Many of them are an easy trip on public transit from New York City, including Belmont Track, home of the Belmont Stakes, and Monmouth Park, on the Jersey shore. On Sunday, we made the 90 tminute train ride to Monmouth Park to catch the Haskell Invitational, a $1 million purse featuring the the Exaggerator, the horse than won the Preakness this year and Nyquist, this year’s Kentucky Derby winner.
Inside the Winner’s Circle, with Monmouth Park grandstand in the background
Monmouth Park opened 146 years ago on July 30th, 1870. Its location, in close proximity to the Long Branch train station was a strategic one – it was hoped that the racetrack would boost business in the communities along the Jersey shore. New York businessman, John F. Chamberlain was one of the backers of the venture. Chamberlain was an avid horseman and owned the Survivor, the first horse to win the Preakness in 1873 at the Pimlico Racetrack in Baltimore. The Survivor held the title for largest winning margin for an astounding 131 years. New Jersey Senate President Amos Robbins and John Honey, president of the Baltimore-based investment firm, the Wall Adams Express Company were also part of the initiative.
In the paddocks, a horse getting walked before heading out to the race.
The track was acclaimed for the quality of the racing, garnering the nickname “Newmarket of America,” in reference to the famous track in England, but financial difficulties over the years led to several closures, management changes, and re-openings, including a large renovation project that was unveiled in 1882. A second race course was opened in 1891 just next door, to accommodate the resurgence of demand but in 1894, the State of New Jersey banned betting on horses. The track at Monmouth Park would be closed for the next fifty years and the grandstand and other property sold at auction.
One of the horses that accompanies the racing horses onto the track, serving as a buddy to keep the horses calm
In 1946, horse racing was back, albeit more regulated, and a new Monmouth Park opened. The Haskell Invitation, which started at Monmouth in 1968, is the park’s most famous event.
Out of the gate
On Sunday, we took a visit behind the scenes into the paddocks, followed the race horses to the track and watched some of the races from the winner’s circle. The races are only fun if you partake in the races (and don’t worry, you can bet in small amounts), people watch for the most stylish fashion denizens, and take in the food and drink.
Heading out to the track
Early leg of a race:
Coming back around for the finish:
The Exaggerator won the prize of the day, taking home the $1 million purse. Though Nyquist was first out of the gate, he finished fourth.
Next, read about a day at the races at Belmont Park, just outside Queens and discover the original private subway car of August Belmont, Jr. which he’d take to the races.