About two weeks ago I received an e-mail from a man named John Cox. He told me how he worked for a company called America's Best Racing and his job was to help get more young people interested in the sport of horse racing. He wanted to invite me down to Monmouth Park in New Jersey to see some racing and hear more about his team and their mission. Now, my stepmom is from Kentucky and a pretty big horse racing fan. I've religiously attended her Kentucky Derby bashes and heard her ramble on about Del Mar this and Barbaro that. But, I never exactly saw horse racing as a sport that was either for my age or accessible in New England. Well, after my trip to Monmouth Park with John and the rest of his America's Best Racing crew, quite a few of my myths of horse racing were debunked.
On Saturday we boarded the ever reliable Amtrak train for Penn Station, NY. (That was supposed to be read in your best sarcastic tone, so maybe go back and try it again) After waiting for our late train and then sitting on the tracks for 15 minutes because a "technician tripped a circuit," we arrive to Penn Station just in time to see our New Jersey transit train take off. Not to fear my friends, we found sustenance in the form of beer and refueled while waiting for the next train to arrive.
Riding on the NJ Transit was another experience all together, sort of like my familiar Metro North...but sort of not.
An hour and 20 minutes late, we finally made it to Monmouth Park to catch up with the America's Best Racing team and some other lovely people. (I met Kelly from her great history blog TheHistoryGirl.com and Nicole from her beautiful fashion blog Running in Wedges.)
John met us at the entrance, right in front of ABR Tour bus. John and five other racing "ambassadors" are spending the year traveling to the big race tracks and the big races in America, enthusiastically promoting the sport of horse racing to the younger generation. While we settled into the Rivalry Room at Monmouth Park, overlooking the racetrack, John filled us in a little more about the sport and why he's so passionate about it.
Like the other five ambassadors, John has a strong passion for the sport of horse racing. Growing up near Lexington, Kentucky, his family was involved in the horse racing field. He told us about how he always knew he wanted to work in horse racing, even acquiring the proper schooling to be a horse auctioneer - although we never did convince him to do his auctioneer voice for us-- if only we'd had more time and more beer.
Next John walked us down to the paddock where we were able to see the horses and jockeys as they prepared for the next race.
I was pretty desperate to know the secret to picking to right horse to bet on, and John did his best informing me on what all the little numbers after each horse's name meant. One of the problems with the sport, John said, Is I think people get intimidated by the betting. It looks confusing at first glance.
Turns out, it's not all that tricky. A lot of it is luck, which makes it all the more fun.
We followed the horses through the paddock and onto the track where we watched a couple of races.
Next, John took us up to the press box to see Larry Collmus announce a race. Larry was a pretty amazing guy. He's worked at Monmouth Park for over 20 years but travels to other tracks to announce as well, even being the announcer for the Kentucky Derby in past years. He graciously invited us into his "office" and energetically answered all our stupid questions, including ones like Have you ever met Brent Musburger? (Answer: "Yes, one time.) Or Have you ever accidently missed the race because you were off getting a coffee or something? (Answer: No, but almost.) He ran a one man show up in his booth, memorizing names and silks of jockeys minutes before each race and then spewing out the names over the loud speakers all through the lens of his binoculars. If you've never been to a race or heard a race announced, you probably can't appreciate the art of what Larry does, but he announces accurately and he announces fast and, honestly, I'm not quite sure how he does it.
We meandered back to the Rivalry Room where we watched the rest of the races from the comfort of our own chairs with a cold beer in hand. It really doesn't get much better than this, does it? With betting right out the door, we were able to try our hand at it, winning a whopping $14.
Before we had to head out to make the trek back to Connecticut, John gave us a tour of the the America's Best Racing bus. It's a pretty amazing thing that he and the other ambassadors are doing...taking a year to travel the country promoting a sport they all hold in such high regard. You can check out their website to see more about their tour, read their blog, and see where they'll be next.
We sadly bid farewell to Monmouth Park, way earlier than we'd like to, we were having way too much fun with the ABR team! We had such a fun day I was able remedy some the misconceptions I had about the sport of horse racing.
Myth one: Horse Racing is mainly in the South. False. I was so misguided here it's not even funny. You have Monmouth Park in New Jersey (not even a 80 minute ride from NYC) and Saratoga Springs and the Belmont in New York (another quick train ride from the city). And those are just the big ones, there is plenty of great horse racing right here in New England.
Myth two: Betting on Horse Racing is hard and intimidating. False. This was a big one for me. I was definitely intimidated by the idea of going up to bet and not having an ounce of and idea on what I was doing. I always thought all these people knew exactly what to do, turns out there's really not that much too it. While you can read the programs and do your best to "get to know" the horses and jockeys, what I really learned is there is no secret sauce. And on top of that, no one cares if you know or you don't know. When you're betting $2 a race, who cares if you just picked the horse because he had a cute name or you thought the jockey silks were nice. The real fun is in having someone to root for when Larry, up in his booth, yells "And there off!"
Myth three: Horse Racing is all old people. False. While the sport is definitely trying to attract a younger fan base, there are a lot of young people interested in the sport. And for good reason, I think it's a a great day for people my age because it's affordable and fun. Unlike other sports I attend that can cost wayward of $100 just to get in, at Monmouth Park it cost a mere $3 per person to get in for a day of racing. You can pack a picnic and watch the races with a few beers and your friends, and then try your hand at betting. For us ladies, horse racing also has amazing fashion, I mean, try not to lust over some of these dresses.
I can't thank John and the rest of the ABR team enough for kindly hosting us for the day at Monmouth Park. We had a great time learning more about the sport of horse racing, and I can't wait to get back for another race. Who wants to join me?!
Check out more about what John and his team are doing here:
Have you ever been to a horse race? If so, how'd you like it? If you haven't, why not?