Monmouth Park — Spend a Day at the Races
Want to help the cause of horses in New Jersey and detach from life’s grind? Then spend some time at the racetrack with your friends and family.
In the Monmouth Beach area, a favorite for me is close-by Monmouth Park Racetrack. This Oceanport institution has opened for the 2018 season. For now, racing will take on place Saturdays and Sunday through June. Check the racing calendar for the schedule after that.
Going to the racetrack is a lot more than gambling. Track surroundings present as a ratified atmosphere — a heady mix of leisure and adventure. And I continue to be awed just by the pure strength and splendor of thoroughbreds. I’ve made many a trip to this Jersey Shore jewel. Racing in the area dates to 1870 and the 2018 meet offers good things to do (see here).
Sadly, the sport is in decline today — most NJ racetracks struggle to get by. With too many other distractions for today’s customers and state officials frequently failing to protect the sport, horse racing is at risk. It’s all worth it though.
In our family, there’s a interest in horses. My dad led the way — he road them, bet on them, read about them, owned them, and appreciated their majestic beauty and raw ability. Above all, he instilled a love of horses in his own children (starting with my sister Alice who was an excellent rider as a teen).
A devoted rider himself, Dad called it exercise on a grand scale. For many years, he (along with my uncle) would ride twice a week and mount up most weekends in the summer. He told me of a real boost from the equine experience and even won a few area Hunter Pace trials — and at a time when he wasn’t a young sawbones.
“Horses are smarter than people. You never heard of a horse going broke betting on people.”
Naturally, he felt the urge to own a horse. But he didn’t go the racehorse route (though he loved the sport), he wanted a horse to ride for himself and one that he could use to teach his family to ride and respect.
So one day in Holmdel he and my Uncle Bill Holsey (a former “gentleman jockey”) bought one, an old gelding who they named Ballybunion, after the famous Irish golf club (in County Kerry). Dad played the links (its Old Course) several times and fell in love with it.
When I asked dad what he paid for the horse, he replied: “a hundred bucks and blanket.” Furthermore, dad explained that Ballybunion wasn’t the greatest riding and jumping horse — or the “smartest.” I have minor recollections of Ballybunion — touching and brushing him, riding in a sleigh he pulled at Christmas time — but by the time I came along dad was on to something else.
A true appreciation for horses should include watching and betting on thoroughbreds. My dad looked very comfortable at the track. He liked to read the Daily Racing Form and was a determined horse race handicapper. “Breeding, Gregory, breeding,” he would tell me. “That’s where you find the most winners.”