Story originally written for America’s Best Racing
Oceanport, NJ — There were many times when I walked through these turnstiles alone. It was usually just after sunrise. I wore a purple polo that read “Monmouth Park.” I can’t clearly recall if the shirt read “staff,” but I do remember how proud I was to be working there.
The last time I’d worked at Monmouth Park was in 2004. It was right after my first Senior year of college and I’d convinced my uncle, who lives in nearby Long Branch, to let me crash at his place for the summer. Back then, I flipped burgers in the grandstand and gambled away my minimum wage check and 50 cent tips. It was all good though, I got to be at the track every day. That’s all that mattered.
So here I was, back at Monmouth Park, nine years later. I walked through the same entrance, turned to the right and saw the same program stand, right in front of the same paddock under the same blistering Jersey Shore summer sun. But last weekend, I wasn’t at the track to work a concession stand. I was there, wearing my media credentials proudly, to cover the Haskell for DanonymousRacing.com (a website I created in February for horse players to find handicapping tips, news and to share great race track stories).
It was a thrill to be back, especially in the capacity in which I was returning. One of the things I most look forward to these days is meeting people at the track, who I’ve developed online relationships with through our website and twitter. For the past few months, I’d interacted with a particular group, ambassadors for America’s Best Racing (ABR), who I was really excited to meet in person. And, in spite of the sameness of the overall track aesthetic, one thing I’d never seen at Monmouth Park before was the giant coach bus parked to the left of the main entrance, the iconic vehicle driving the ABR tour.
I walked up to the bus, knocked on the steel door and was welcomed aboard. Inside, I introduced myself to Victoria Garofalo (@itsmevictoriag) and Chip McGaughey (@Chip_McGaughey). Since most of my friends in racing are either slightly older or considerably older than I am, it was great (almost surreal) to meet younger people talking about racing with such enthusiasm. They explained to me that they were midway through a coast-to-coast tour, which had already taken them to Keeneland, the Kentucky Derby and now the Haskell (among other stops) and that their next destination was Saratoga.
Thanks to another ABR ambassador, John Cox (@Cox_Talks), I was invited to a luncheon in an air-conditioned (thankfully) Rivalry Room at Monmouth Park. There, John was teaching a guy, who must’ve been in his early 20’s, how to read the racing form and pick winners. At another table was another ABR ambassador, Jose Contreras (@LosPonies) and his wife, Karina (@MrsLosPonies). It was their first Haskell and, perhaps even more exciting, their next stop at Saratoga would be their first visit to that historic track.
Maybe then, things had changed some since I was last here. In those days, I remember being the only guy at the track (who didn’t have to be there) bright and early to watch the horses work in the morning. I was also “that guy” who was always looking for someone to cover my burger or beer stand, so that I could run to a machine to bet. I always wondered why I was the only person, my age, so wrapped up in racing, the horses, the people and the atmosphere. Surely, anyone who had ever been exposed to a track like this, especially on Haskell Day, would be hooked for life. Maybe, thanks to ABR, a few more younger people became fans for life last weekend.