May 19th 2010 08:25 am |
On Saturday, Monnmouth Park will open for business but it won’t be business as usual for the old track in Oceanport. This year’s Monmouth summer meeting is being touted on their website as an “elite race meet.” State officials hope the fifty-day, weekends-only schedule, plus $50 million dollars in purses, will generate increased attention and subsequent revenue from the gambling public.
Monmouth Park opened in 1946. Prior to the current facility, two other race tracks in the area operated under the name Monmouth Park. The first conducted a meet from 1870 to 1872. It closed due to financial problems and stood idle for 10 years.
In 1878, prominent horse owners and breeders George Lorillard and D.D. Withers along with James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, purchased and restored Monmouth which had fallen into disrepair after years of neglect. After four years of renovation, the track opened again for racing in 1882.
In 1889, plans were announced for a new facility. That track — in close proximity to the original — opened in 1890 to much fanfare and was touted in 1897 as “…the finest racecourse ever constructed…” Unfortunately, it was short lived. Just a year after opening, the anti-gambling faction in the state forced Monmouth to move its meet to New York’s Jerome Park. Racing commenced again from 1892 to 1894 but the tide had turned against racing. Newspapers, like the New York Times, once supportive, began publishing negative stories about Monmouth, claiming that “men and women of no character are freely admitted to the grounds.” In 1894, New Jersey doomed racing in the state by passing a law that banned wagering.
I have always been curious about the precise locations of the original Monmouth Parks. After locating two maps and a somewhat obscure history written by an army historian, I identified the location of the 1870 Monmouth and have a general idea on the location of the one built in 1890.
This source claims the 1890 track was located on the current parade grounds of Fort Monmouth. However, if they were using the faint outline on the aerial image above as their primary piece of evidence, a few measurements using Google Earth proves that outline could not be the main oval, which was described by the New York Tribune as being a mile and three-quarters (hard to imagine a track larger then Belmont’s mile and a half).
I could not find a map that shows that 1890 track (although I am sure one exists). I did find this written in the New York Tribune from January 20, 1889 announcing the new track:
It was officially declared by the Monmouth Park Association that deeds have been signed, sealed, and delivered…The total amount of land purchased is more than 400 acres…This property is wholly apart from and a short distance away from the present Monmouth Park, on the northwest of it, and separated from it by the creek on the west side of the Park, and by the railway tracks which run from Little Silver to the west gate of the ground.”
It is likely that the current parade ground was part of the land purchased for the 1890 track but the precise location of the grandstand and primary oval remains a question.
If anyone knows the precise 1890 location (or has a better idea based on the images and maps above) , please leave a comment or shoot me an email.
UPDATE (5/21): Hal Handel, Chief Operating Officer at NYRA, sent this in an email:
“Second Monmouth Park was in middle of present Fort Monmouth and the parade ground when viewed from air gives good idea of configuration of racing oval…Spent fair amount of time looking into the old venues when I worked there years ago, another interesting note is that current MP uses the oval from a 19th century track called Elkwood Park that was a short lived venue.”
A big thank you to Hal for taking the time to send along this information.
SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS
“A New Monmouth Park,” New York Tribune, 1889 January 20
“The Race Track Denounced,” New York Times, 1892 April 4
“Warning to Decent People,” New York Times, 1893 July 16
“The End of Monmouth Park,” New York Times, 1897 March 14
Melissa Kozlowski, “Fort Monmouth and the Jersey Derby,” 2005. This is a strange source. It was selectively useful but also has some egregious errors, the worst of which being the claim that the Jersey Derby moved south and became the Kentucky Derby in the 1890s. Ouch!
Speaking of moving races, I received an email from Allan Carter, the historian at the National Museum of Racing in Saratoga Springs. In response to my post about the Maryland Jockey Club and the New York Preakness, Mr. Carter wrote:
What is really awful about the Maryland Jockey Club’s decision to include the Preaknesses that were run at Gravesend and Morris Park is that the 1890 faux Preakness at Morris Park was for 3-year-olds and up, and the winner was a five-year-old named Montague. That makes that otherwise undistinguished equine the oldest horse to win a Triple Crown race. In addition, that race was run the same day as the Belmont.
[Also], any horse that won the Derby was ineligible to run in the faux Preaknesses because the Derby prize money alone would have made him ineligible to run in the Preakness.”
Looks like I am not the only that thinks counting the New York Preaknesses in the official history of the race is silly. Allan Carter’s opinion is gold when it comes to racing history and I thank him for allowing me to quote from his email here.
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!
Filed in thoroughbred racing history