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.”
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.
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.