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Experiencing Haskell Day at Monmouth Park, From Press Box to General Admission

by Diane Quail | Posted on Thursday, July 31st, 2014

“You know horses, who do I bet on?”

If only I had a dollar for every time someone said that to me.  I’m starting this article with important information.  My family owns, trains and drives standard bred trotters not thoroughbreds. I love horse racing, all aspects of it, but when it comes to gambling, as I stated in my last article, count me out.

Being a reporter, I get access to the press box, the stables, and the entire grandstand.  Being a horse racing child I appreciate all aspects of the sport.  However, being the daughter of a trainer I get that same question no matter where I go.  I get on the elevator; make small talk with the attendant.  Tell him, my family owns horses that’s how I got into this, of course what does he say next, “so who should I bet on for this race?” Keep in mind, I never looked at the program, I just got on the elevator and wanted to get to my seat and open my program.

When I got off the elevator I noticed that it was not all that crowded in the Grandstand.  Don’t get me wrong there were a lot of people, but when I think crowded I just refer back to the Belmont Stakes zoo.  I make it up to the press box and find my seat.  I’m not going to lie; the view was pretty good up there.  I got a view of the finish line and the best part, for most, was the air conditioning.  The difference between the press box and sitting outside is that you can see everything and be cool.  Only one problem, I’m anemic.  Everyone else looked comfortable and relaxed, between the goose bumps, the shivering and the fact that I had my shawl wrapped around me like a blanket I stood out a bit.  Oh yeah and I was the only girl up there, total odd one out, but who cares I was doing my job just like they were.

(Photo by Diane Quail)

(Photo by Diane Quail)

Usually when I cover horse racing I stay in the grandstand because I am able to view the same things and it’s never that crowded anyway.  I did not realize how not only convenient, but easier to focus the press box would be.  At the end of every race we were given printed copies of quotes along with race stats, it was great.  However, I was far too cold and it was race three at that point so I decided, lets explore Monmouth Park.

I get in the elevator, the same attendant asks me who to bet on and I give him the same answer, but he was so sweet I couldn’t even be mad.  I got out of the elevator and well lets just say Haskell Day has it’s own type of general admission zoo.  At Monmouth there is a picnic area, pretty much you can bring your own food, alcohol and chairs.  In some spots I believe you can even bring your own small grill.  It is nice and a fun experience, but I can name ten things I would rather do than have a family picnic on the biggest race-day of the year.  I couldn’t tell which family was which, everyone was sitting so close, and it was like everyone had attended one giant picnic.  Now I know why my dad once again, laughed at me when I asked if he was coming.

I watched a race from the picnic area and that was enough for me.  It was hot, sweaty, people were screaming and I could not hear the announcer to save my life.  It was time for what I was most looking forward to.  Now, as I said before I had access to the stables.  Granted I had no clue where they were.  I walked around, pushing through the crowd, but no one could really give me a straight answer as to where the stables were.  The only answer I got was “they’re all the way back over there.”  It was real funny when I kept asking employees and they kept pointing me in different directions.

There were now only five or so races before the Haskell so I figured I was not going to get the information I wanted from Untapable’s trainer or jockey so I figured I would move on.  I did find the paddock, which was right in the middle of Monmouth Park and although I did not have a “Paddock Pass”, I was allowed in.

The paddock is where the horses go right before they race, this is where the trainers and jockey’s get one last look at the horse and can give each other tips and such.  The paddock is honestly one of the hardest places to get into on a normal Thursday afternoon at Freehold Raceway, let alone The Haskell Stakes at Monmouth Park.

I was up close with some of the best thoroughbred horses in the country.  Along with their owners, who were dressed to the nines for race day.

Now the best part about the paddock is the fact that you can hear and see everything that is happening right before the current race.  That is why it is so hard for outsiders to enter.  I quietly stood around with some of the owners just observing what I saw.  I heard some trainers giving some jockeys advice as to how the horses were racing.  I also heard some jockeys and trainers tell the owners what their chances were at winning that day.  It was something that I never experienced before being in such an exclusive area of the racetrack.

After my paddock experience, I made my way back up to the press box.  You would think after being in the sweltering heat that I would love being in the air.  Nope.  Still freezing.   There were more reporters here now since it was closer to race time.  Now it was all the big races lined up.  The one thing that I really noticed at the Haskell compared to other sporting events is the atmosphere in the press box during a race.

In most press boxes, the reporters are quiet and no one is standing.   In horse racing, even the press gets a little excited over the races.  It was nice to be able to cheer a little when the horse that I put two dollars on came in first.  For a change I was actually up a dollar at a thoroughbred racetrack.  I must say, the fact that I was able to come home with ten dollars gas money was a huge accomplishment for me in the thoroughbred world.

Things started to heat up at The Haskell; it was now time for the race that everyone was waiting for.

Untapable, who could have been the third filly to win The Haskell looked great.  Her trainer, Steve Asmussen, had trained Rachel Alexandra who was the last filly Haskell winner back in 2009.  The horses came out for the post parade and she looked great.  She did not have the best spot drawing the seven hole, but still she looked ready to win.

The horses got in the gate and everyone in the press box stood up.  I feel like no matter how good your seat is for a race you just need to stand up.

And they’re off.

You could tell immediately, this was not her day.  Untapable surged out of the gate, but found herself way outside on the first turn, a position that is really hard to win from.   Bayern, the ultimate winner, was way ahead of her and you could tell on the backstretch, Untapable will not be the fourth filly Haskell winner.  The filly ended up coming in fifth, and her undefeated season came to an end.

Later, there was talk that the horse next to her, Social Inclusion, had acted up in the gate and threw his driver off.  Sure, this could have distracted Untapable, but there is also one thing to remember, horses wear blinders when they race.

With Bayern’s victory, many people began to exit the Haskell and continue on for the next adventure of the day, Sunday evening parkway north traffic.

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