I have mentioned previously that I’m Irish; my maiden name is Shaughnessy and I come from a very long line of horse breeders and sailors in Galway County, Ireland. When I showed up in town looking for my family at the local post office on my honeymoon all those many years ago, I was told “Oh, the horse people!” And when I showed up unannounced on the front step, my cousin came barreling in to say “Why didn’t you say you were coming?! You could have come to the race. My mare just won the hunt.” And the last time I went back when my son Shane was spending a semester abroad in Ireland, they had grown to “the horse crowd” so the tradition continues. Obviously, I come by my love of horses honestly, and that also might explain why I’ve had the joy of owning those most extraordinary empathetic animals most of my life. I even like sitting in the stall and listening to them eat. (I’ll save my love of sailing for another day! That’s the other passion.) So, Saturday is a big day – The Kentucky Derby! They’ll be a lot of Derby parties, and lot of bourbon and sugar consumed in the form of Mint Julips, throughout the Two River area as well as a lot of discussion about whether the 17 hands Dortmund can beat American Pharoah. I’ve been known to leave weddings I was in to go watch it. I know. That’s bad. But I came back. The Derby also marks the beginning of a wonderful racing season at Monmouth Park, which opens its doors May 9. You can bet I’ll be there in a partier box and not just on opening day. I’m a pathetic bettor, though, the $2 to $5 kind, but you’d think I had a million dollars on the race from my behavior. I just love to watch them run. The Triple Crown – and of course the Haskell at Monmouth – are very special races because it’s the best of the best 3-year-olds but it’s also tradition and sentiment. Think Secretariat. His record in all three races remain unbroken when that loveable clown turned unchallenged champion broke the Derby in 1:59, the Preakness Stakes in 1:53 and ran an astonishing Belmont Stakes in 2:24. That was in 1973 – 42 years ago. At the time, he was the first Triple Crown winner in 25 years. And he did it in style. Who could forget that 16.2 hands chestnut – the beloved Big Red – with Ron Turcott as jockey barreling down the stretch as never been done before, a full 31 lengths ahead of the pack. I almost lost my job at The Asbury Park Press as a cub reporter over that. I went into the broadcast room of WJLK to watch the race and yelled out some inappropriate comments as that moment was unfolding and the mic was live. Thankfully, one of the owners said he wouldn’t fire me after all, although I was admonished, because he wanted someone with that much passion in his newsroom. Phew.
The Haskell, considered the fourth leg of the Triple Crown, to be held at Monmouth on August 2 is an extraordinary opportunity for residents of the Two River area to see a number of the horses that ran in the Triple Crown fight it out for the $1 million purse right here in our backyard. Monmouth Park is a treasure. One we’ve almost lost and it’s so worth keeping. Open space is preserved because of horse farms and who doesn’t like to drive down 537 in Colts Neck and get a glance at the stunning thoroughbreds. The track employs thousands of people, including me when I was a hot walker and an exercise girl-in-training, during my college summers working on the “backside.” It’s a community, an equally rough and tumble and elegant community, that shares the love of those majestic beasts who run their hearts out for our entertainment. Support the track. Do what you can. Be there opening day. Who knows, you just might see history being made again.
Let’s have coffee.
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