The death of Amory L. Haskell

Twenty years after the first horses sprang from the gate at the new Monmouth Park, its guiding force, Amory L. Haskell, died of a heart attack in a New York City hospital on April 12, 1966, at the age of 72.

Haskell had been ailing for many months, and prior to his death had been hospitalized in Palm Beach, Fla. with a leg infection. He left behind his second wife, Blanche Angell Smith, whom he married in 1959; her daughter, Cynthia Smith, and four daughters and a son from his first marriage to Annette Tilford: Amory L. Haskell, Jr., Mrs. Alejandro DeTomaso, Mrs. John C. Ellis, Mrs. Edward B. Ross, and Mrs. Charles H. Jones.

Upon learning of Haskell’s death, the tributes poured in from people in the sporting, political and social worlds.

“A distinguished citizen,” said N. J. Gov. Richard J. Hughes, “who has excelled in so many endeavors and whose contributions in many areas of public life will serve as a lasting and fitting tribute, and who was respected and admired by many.”

Monmouth County Republican Chairman J. Russell Woolley said Haskell was “faithful and reasonable, not obstinate in his ways. He was dedicated to high standards, generally interested in the public good. He will be missed in many ways, not just by the Republican party, but by the community.”

“His speeches were few; his appearances at party functions were frequent but his custom was to take a bow and leave the spotlight to others in whom his confidence was well known,” wrote Charles A. Johnston in the Red Bank Register. “His format for political participation was copied closely at Monmouth Park and among his neighbors at Woodland Farm.”

Amory Haskell at Monmouth Park
Photo By Turfotos
Amory L. Haskell/Photo courtesy of Monmouth Park

Haskell’s graciousness and hospitality were recalled when, in 1965, he played host to former President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mrs. Eisenhower at Monmouth Park. His obituary in the Red Bank Register called it “perhaps his greatest hour at the track.”

He was remembered for the establishment and growth of the Monmouth Park Charity Ball, which aided county welfare and health associations; as a good golfer, particularly at the Rumson Country Club, and as well as a boater, having owned a huge craft in the ketch-yawl class that was anchored in the Navesink River.

He had memberships in many sporting clubs and associations, including The Jockey Club, the Thoroughbred Breeders Association of New Jersey, the Master of Foxhounds Association, the Irish Wolfhounds Club of America, the Canadian Hackney Horse Association, and the Rose Tree Fox Hunting Club.

Jim and Haskell

Amory L. Haskell, right, with Sunny Jim Fitzsimmons, center, 1963/Photo courtesy of Monmouth Park

 

Funeral services for Haskell were held at the St. George’s-by-the-River Episcopal Church in Rumson, and he was buried on his Woodland Farms estate.

In “The Register’s Opinion” editorial published in the Red Bank Register on April 14, 1966, the following was written about Haskell:

Amory L. Haskell – sportsman, political figure, multimillionaire, humanitarian. Mr. Haskell was truly a giant among men – and his achievements, his power, and his prestige made him one of the most influential men in the country, the state, and indeed, in many areas of the country.

            (He) will be best remembered as the first and only president of the Monmouth Park Jockey Club. And it was largely through his efforts that the Oceanport racetrack became one of the finest in the nation … he always will have a special place in the history of Monmouth County. And his accomplishments will best tell his story today and in the years to come.”

Two years after his death, in 1968, the Monmouth Park directors honored his memory with the Amory L. Haskell Handicap, a race for 3-year-olds. Now called the Haskell Invitational Handicap, it is an important Grade 1 race for sophomores, and many have used it en route to year-end honors.

From the book, “The Golden Age of New Jersey Horse Racing,” by the author, available on Amazon.com.

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Another Opening Day in Oceanport

Opening day at Monmouth Park has always been a special occasion, and this year was no different. Cool weather, a steady breeze, and a sizable crowd all added up to a fun afternoon at the circa-1946 Oceanport oval. What follows is a photo tour of Monmouth from yesterday and through the years:

Mth backstretch 1949

A backstretch scene from 1949, from an old postcard (no copyright). Notice the way grooms dressed to care for their charges.

Aerial photo of Monmouth Park from the 1950's.

Aerial photo of Monmouth Park from the 1950’s.

Mth August 1957

Another aerial photo from 1957. Both aerials courtesy of Equiphoto.

MonmouthPark_109

Jockey Eddie Arcaro (L) makes his way back from the track with his valet at Monmouth Park in the 1950’s. Photo By Turfotos/Jim Raftery.

Monmouth cafeteria 1980

The old cafeteria, circa 1980. From the author’s collection.

Mth 7

Sand sculpture of American Pharoah, greeting guests on May 14, 2016 as they passed through the turnstiles.

Mth 1

Waiting for the first race of the season, May 14, 2016.

Mth 2

Freshly-spread wood chips gave off a wonderful aroma prior to the 1st race of 2016.

Mth 5

The Monmouth infield has seen many changes over the years, but it’s still pleasing to the eye.

Mth 3

The old curlicue hedges in the infield are long gone, but the grass is still green.

Mth 4

The Picnic Area seems to get larger every year, and fans still fill it. The apron now has a BYOB area.

Mth 6

This used to be the best place to find a reasonably-priced draft beer. The price has gone up for 2016.

Mth 8

After the races, head on over to the Sitting Duck on Myrtle Avenue for dinner and some brewskis.

Mth 9

The dinner specials at the Sitting Duck are plentiful, and so are the portion sizes. These are the Tuscany-crusted pork chops.

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They’re Off at Monmouth Park – 70 years ago

In 1946, the first horses sprang from the gate at the new Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N. J. after a hiatus of more than 50 years. This year, Monmouth celebrates its 70th season of racing, thanks to the foresight and determination of Amory L. Haskell. The following is an excerpt from the new book, “The Golden Age of New Jersey Horse Racing,” available on Amazon.com.

All the planning and effort to bring horse racing back to Monmouth Park by Amory L. Haskell paid off handsomely the afternoon of Wednesday, June 19, 1946, when the sound of thoroughbred hooves could once again be heard in Monmouth County. In the run-up to opening day, famed turf writer and historian Nelson Dunstan captured the feelings many had about the occasion: “On July 4, 1870, Monmouth Park in New Jersey opened for what later was to be the most colorful race track in the country. Now Monmouth Park, at Oceanport, opens tomorrow for what promises to be a new and brilliant brilliant era of the thoroughbred sport in the state across the Hudson.[1]

That first day proved to be everything Haskell had hoped for, although attendance was a bit lighter than expected, at 18,724, as was total handle, which was $702,359, a figure far short of the expected million dollar take. A heavyweight fight in New York City, together with exceptionally cool weather, was blamed for keeping the attendance and the betting at the low level. The plant, obviously incomplete, was described as “a magnificent structure of sculptured concrete and skeletal steel rearing above the terrain and visible for miles at sea.”[2]

 

Mth paddock1
In June, 1946, Monmouth Park opens for its inaugural season. In this photo, horses leave the walking ring with their grooms. In the background you can see the evidence of uncompleted construction. The famous trees in the paddock have yet to be planted, and the tunnel connecting the grandstand and clubhouse has yet to be built. Photo from the author’s collection.

 

Sen. Proctor was on hand and delivered a short address to start the season’s festivities. Haskell also spoke over the public address system, delivering welcoming statements and offering thanks to local officials, contractors, and workers for the cooperation which resulted in the return of racing to Oceanport.

On that opening card, William H. LaBoyteaux’s New Jersey-bred filly, Pipette, who was foaled at nearby Holmdel in Monmouth County, captured the $10,000 Colleen Stakes for 2-year-old fillies at five and a half furlongs in a thrilling stretch drive, nosing out a gray filly from the Wheatley Stable, Keynote, in a photo-finish win. Pipette was sent to the lead immediately after the start that she consistently held until midway in the stretch. Keynote then made a bid for victory, and, with but two lengths to go, snatched the lead away. Pipette made a great surge in a last-second effort, crossing the wire by a whisker. The filly was definitely a sentimental choice and her local followers gave her a rousing hand as she entered the winner’s circle. Betting on the revival of the Colleen, which had previously been run at old Monmouth, totaled $103,246, highest of the day. [3]

Edited Monmouth Big M_0005

A large crowd watches the horses thunder down the stretch during Monmouth Park’s opening season in June, 1946. Note the unfinished infield and the lack of a turf course. Photo from the author’s collection.

 

Twenty-eight days later, when the curtain dropped on the inaugural 1946 season, total betting was a hefty $24,016,910, reflecting the popularity of the sport. In 1947, with the meet increased to 36 days, total betting soared to $43,371,116, with the state getting more than $1.7 million in revenue.[4]

Sources:

[1] “Monmouth Park Opens at Oceanport Today,” Daily Racing Form, June 19, 1946, 32. [2] “Oceanport in Retrospect,” Oceanport Historical Society, 1970, p. 156. [3] “Pipette Wins Colleen in Monmouth Opener,” Red Bank Register, June 20, 1946, p. 1. [4] “Racing Revenue Up Sharply in New Jersey,” New York Times, October 16, 1947, 21.

The Golden Age of New Jersey Horse Racing 003 (1)

Available on Amazon.com: The Golden Age of New Jersey Horse Racing

 

Develop the Meadows

The Hackensack Meadowlands, as it looked in 1960. Courtesy New Jersey State Library.

This is the second in a series of excerpts from the new book, “The Golden Age of New Jersey Horse Racing,” available on Amazon.

Even though Meadowlands Racetrack didn’t open its doors to the public until September 1, 1976 for its first program of harness racing, there had been many attempts to build a track in the East Rutherford marshes since pari-mutuel gambling was legalized in New Jersey in 1939.

The prelude to the modern Meadowlands has all the makings of a made-for-television movie, complete with corrupt politicians, a labor union lawyer that took on Tammany Hall, and a voter referendum that was, incredibly, allegedly manipulated by organized crime. The entire process that brought the track to fruition was rife with push-and-pull between governmental authorities and commissions, environmentalists, and the general public.

It all took place in the shadow of Manhattan, in an ecologically sensitive area known as the New Jersey Meadowlands, which had been exploited and destroyed for the benefit of individuals and businesses for many decades. Because of its close proximity to New York and to the heavily populated Hudson and Bergen counties, the Meadowlands was used as a dumping ground for refuse and chemical wastes. The Hackensack River, which flowed through the marshland, was poisoned by a wide range of pollutants from unregulated industries. So widespread was dumping in the marshes that even rubble from collapsed London buildings, destroyed from the nightly bombings of German airplanes in 1940 through 1942, was brought across the Atlantic Ocean by ships and deposited there. Today, the unique value of the Meadowlands and its importance not only to wildlife but to mankind has been realized; back in the 1950s, when this story begins, it was perceived as a mosquito-infested nuisance.

Unfortunately, the Meadowlands was eyed as a prime area that could be filled in and built over. By the time the first serious overtures to bring a racetrack to the northern portion of the state came in 1950, the Meadowlands was on the verge of being completely destroyed. Route 1 and Route 3 crisscrossed the landscape, the New Jersey Turnpike sliced through its midsection, landfills grew like malodorous mountains, and birds, fish and mammals were killed en masse. It was a time when environmental issues took a back seat to those of human growth and industry.

Upon the legalization of pari-mutuel gambling, the state allowed the licensing of up to four thoroughbred tracks and four harness tracks. In July, 1950, the New York Times reported that Garden State Park developer Eugene Mori, Sr., as the head of the newly-created Hudson Racing Association, was seeking to build a racetrack in Secaucus, Hudson County, near the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel. At that time, Monmouth Park and Atlantic City Race Course were enjoying successful seasons, having opened in 1946, and joined Garden State Park as the state’s three thoroughbred license holders.

In the meantime, the state was becoming more serious about filling and developing 15,000 acres of the Meadowlands for both commercial and residential use. On March 31, 1961, the newly-created state Meadowlands Regional Development Agency released a study entitled, “Develop the Meadows,” which outlined the reasons the tract should be taken from the its natural state and turned into an extension of the metropolitan area. Calling the Meadowlands “a new frontier,” the report stated:

“Nowhere else in the metropolitan region does there exist a tract of land so vast in size and so available for use and conducive to any number and variety of development projects.

The Meadowlands require a considerable amount of preparation in order to accommodate future development. However, if the Meadowlands had required little or no preparation to be useful they would have already been consumed and absorbed into the great mass of urban sprawl which characterizes most of the metropolitan region. The Meadowlands have been largely removed from the real estate market and preserved in almost virgin state to the present time.

The Meadowlands are now ripe for development. Physical conditions which would have prevented the feasible use of the Meadowlands can now be controlled. Engineering science has made such significant advances that the reclamation and development of the more marginal types of land is entirely possible and problems are no longer insurmountable.”

new jersey reclamation of land

The cover of the brochure “Develop The Meadows.” Courtesy New Jersey State Library.

You can find “The Golden Age of New Jersey Horse Racing” at this link:

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http://www.amazon.com/Golden-Age-Jersey-Horse-Racing-ebook/dp/B01BTF9JUG/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1459776660&sr=1-1&keywords=the+golden+age+of+new+jersey+horse+racing

Inquiring minds want to know …

Parx Sunday

Photo credit: The Author

Inquiring minds in Pennsylvania want to know …

  • … whether one of the leading trainers at Parx Racing will get a five year ban, or a lifetime ban, for his string of positive tests. But honestly, the horses will just run in a surrogate’s name, so what difference does it make?
  • … whether Parx Racing will still be under the umbrella of the same ownership group at the end of the year.
  • … what the makeup of the “new” thoroughbred racing commission will be, and when it will be announced.
  • … whether updating the news section of the Pa. Horse Breeders’ web site once or twice a month is really enough.
  • … what the results of the autopsy of the male pulled from the Susquehanna River on Sunday will be.

Garden State Park and World War II

Beginning this week, you’ll find a series of excerpts from the newly-published book, “The Golden Age of New Jersey Horse Racing,” available on Amazon.  Today’s excerpt is from the Garden State Park chapter, “A Garden Grows.”

Eugene Mori submitted a request to the (New Jersey Racing) Commission for the number of days the new Garden State Racing Association intended to run in 1942. He planned a 50-day race program between May 1 and May 30, and a 49-day stand from August 17 through September 12, but stressed that this schedule was “tentative.”

Groundbreaking commenced in November,  1941, and quick progress was made on the grandstand, which was designed to hold more than 30,000 people, as well as the stable area. Construction stalled, however, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, and the United States entered World War II the next day. The War Production Board said that all nonessential construction had to be completed by June 6 or be stopped until after the war was over.

A shortage of materials resulted from restrictions immediately placed on supplies required by the war effort, which forced Mori to replace unavailable steel with wood throughout much of the track. The racetrack was built with wood and brick and some steel from New York City’s recently dismantled Third Avenue El. Completing the track for a May 1 opening, as Mori had initially proposed, was now unattainable, with a mid-summer date more realistic.

With a large crew of workers toiling nearly round-the-clock, Garden State Park, the first new legal thoroughbred track in the state in nearly half a century, was completed on June 6, 1942. Finishing touches, however, continued on the charming Colonial-style venue until the official opening the following month.

First turn GSP

Three days before Garden State’s opening, reporter Cy Pederman of The Philadelphia Inquirer took a tour of the new track and wrote: “Mechanics wrestled feverishly with pipe, wiring, and tote machines; painters dabbed desperately at the paddock and stretch rails; carpenters hammered incessantly at unfinished offices and booths, grimy gangs splashed the last blocks of concrete here and there.”[1]

Even on opening day,  July 18, 1942, work was going ahead at such a frenzied pace that patrons, greeted on entering through the front gate by bare patches of ground, were surprised on leaving by finding lawns completely covered by sod and decorated by trees 20 feet high.

Despite transportation difficulties – trains and buses were not in service because of the war, a taxi boycott was in effect, and an immense traffic jam ensured – the track’s first race was run at 2:30 p.m.

The official attendance, despite rainy weather, was 31,682, who bet $569,341 on eight races. The first horse to cross the finish line, a maiden 2-year-old filly named Spanish Sun, paid $10.50 to win in the 5-½ furlong race with a purse of $1,000. The feature race was the $5,000 Camden Handicap at six furlongs, which was won by T. H. Heard Jr.’s longshot Boysy, who took the lead at the head of the stretch and held back a rush by Valdina Alpha to post a $23.30 win price.

[1] “Hurly-Burly Finish Opens Racing at Garden State.” Cy Peterman, The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 16, 1942, 1.

You can read more at http://amzn.com/153007178X

 

 

The winter of Parx’s discontent – and a new book!

APTOPIX Kentucky Derby Horse Racing

(AP Photo/J. David Ake)

 

When Parx Racing announced last year that it was trimming race dates and planning to go dark from the end of December until the first part of February, one had to wonder why it would attempt to come back during a period in which bad weather was the rule, not the exception.

Thus, it should come as no surprise to fans nor horsemen that the Bensalem, Pa. racetrack was not ready to resume live racing as scheduled on Feb. 13. While the track has stated it will be ready to run on Feb. 27, it doesn’t seem likely that the local horse population will be.

Bad weather notwithstanding, one of the reasons why Parx has been unable to open as planned is because of major problems installing a new inner rail around the dirt surface. That project, which began right after New Year’s, was supposed to take only two or three weeks, but erosion issues cropped up when post holes were dug for the new rail. Recently, some horsemen said there were “sinkholes” in the track.

In the meantime, horsemen were reminded by management that there was to be no shed-rowing of horses during this dark time, so as time passed horses stabled on the backstretch lost a great deal of fitness.

This whole scenario could have been avoided had management decided to resume racing in mid-March, when the serious threat of ice and snow had passed. Instead of closing for a short period in August, they could have tacked that time onto the winter break. But that would be too logical, and logic is something that has been lacking at Parx for many, many years.

* * * *

The Golden Age of New Jersey Horse Racing 003 (1)

Since I began covering horse racing in 1990, writing a book had always been one of my main goals. But in between traveling to major races, handicapping on a daily basis, writing news stories and columns, and working as a proofreader/editor, there wasn’t a minute to spare.

I still don’t have much time, but I felt that I had to make time if I was to accomplish that goal before the Grim Reaper comes a-knockin’. Beginning in early 2015, I started working on a book, and I’ve finally finished.  It’s called “The Golden Age of New Jersey Horse Racing,” and spotlights the four men – Amory L. Haskell, Eugene Mori, John B. Kelly, Sr. and David “Sonny” Werblin – who helped bring to life Monmouth Park, Garden State Park, Atlantic City Race Course and the Meadowlands.

It was quite an interesting project, and a learning experience, too. You can find it on Amazon as both a Kindle and print book, and Nook Press (Barnes & Noble) and Kobo as an ebook only. Here are the links:

Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=golden+age+of+new+jersey+horse

Barnes & Noble:

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-golden-age-of-new-jersey-horse-racing-linda-dougherty/1123429042;jsessionid=F5C8F1C7E2E3239102842896A4C60BF5.prodny_store01-atgap03?ean=2940158054785

Kobo:

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-golden-age-of-new-jersey-horse-racing