But the state has another significant equine claim to fame as well – it is the home of the Far Hills Race Meeting, the nation’s most prestigious steeplechase racing event.
This year’s set of races took place on Oct. 21, and there now is a new twist for bettors.
As is the case at the current Monmouth Park, race handicappers have the option of traditional parimutuel wagering – which was instituted in 2018 – or “fixed odds,” meaning that the bettor knows that the odds offered at the time the bet is made will not change regardless of subsequent wagers.
Monmouth Park was the first U.S. racetrack to offer the odds that are familiar to bettors in Australia and in much of Europe.
More than 30,000 spectators were on hand as Irish-bred Noah And The Ark and jockey Harrison Beswick surged to victory in the featured event – the Grade 1 $250,000 Grand National Stakes. The winning horse – a 9-year-old chestnut gelding – navigated 14 hurdles in the course of 2 and 5/8 miles.
Merry Maker claimed second place and early pacesetter Seddon took third, while favored Salvador Ziggy – like the winner and Seddon being a visitor from Ireland – finished out of the money in a race in which each of the eight horses carried 156 pounds.
With no top-3 finishes in three previous starts in 2023, Noah And The Ark paid $37 to his savvy supporters for the 5 1/4 length victory.
“You never expect to win, let alone win the biggest race of the year,” owner and trainer Todd McKenna reflected after the race. “So I was as surprised as any one person could be. I even cried when I walked out onto the track, which is not something I do very often. The goal was always Far Hills, because he ran so well there last year at equal weights [finishing in second place].”
Irish trainer Gordon Elliott and jockey Jack Kennedy captured three of the races on the seven-race card that day that featured 55 horses.
The most intriguing resume among all the horses may belong to Abaan, a Grade 3 winner of more than $500,000 on thoroughbred turf races as the six-year-old son of 2013 Breeders Cup champion and Travers Stakes winner Will Take Charge.
Abaan made his steeplechase debut this summer by competing in two events, and he captured the $100,000 Foxbrook Champion novice race at Far Hills on his third try.
A Proud History of Steeplechase Racing
The Far Hills steeplechase races have been run annually at the same Somerset County site since 1916, with the only missed years being during World War II and in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The races took place on national television for the first time in 2021, as the 100th occurrence was aired as part of the “America’s Day at the Races” broadcast on Fox Sports’ FS2 channel. Fabled Kentucky Derby race caller Larry Collmus took the microphone for the event, and did so again in 2022 and 2023.
The Far Hills event traces its origins back to the Essex Hunt, a fox hunting event founded in Montclair in northern New Jersey in 1870. As of 1913, the organizers of the Essex Hunt became incorporated as the Essex Fox Hounds.
The Farmer’s Day Race Meeting, as it was called then, was a way to thank the farmers and landowners who allowed members to hunt on their property. A few years later, the event moved to the current site.
Many a visitor to the Far Hills meet has sheepishly reported to family and friends that while they greatly enjoyed the socializing, in all honesty they never even got a glimpse of a horse all day. Such was the boisterous mood of the event.
But a decade ago, after dozens of arrests for public urination, underage drinking, and other infractions, race day organizers banned the bringing of alcohol through the general admission entrances.
A much nobler tradition has been the fact since the 1950s, race proceeds have gone to charitable organizations – an amount which topped $20 million all-time in 2023.
In 2022, longshots Agitare and Basso placed 1-2 in the John Forbes Memorial Stakes, paying out $509.80 on a $2 exacta bet.
New to the site this year was “The Hunt Club,” sponsored by Penelope Bourbon – a private area along the backstretch that offered a front-row view of the races as well as music, tailgating games, and unique food and beverage items.
The gates opened for fans this year at 8 a.m., so with the first post time at 1 p.m., there was plenty of time for early tailgating.
Longtime steeplechase spectators – which would include a majority of attendees – fondly remember McDynamo, who won the Grand National event five consecutive years from 2003 through 2007 at age 6 through 10. The vast majority of McDynamo’s record money earnings of $1.3 million was earned at Far Hills.
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