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Monday, July 8, 2013

Fair Time

PTP today has a column about racing for the sake of racing.  I can relate to his friend Norm, because I am one of those people who can watch racing for the sake of racing.  Sure, if there is wagering I will wager, but I am just as content, if not happier, being somewhere where there is no wagering.

When I went to college in New Brunswick, New Jersey I was fortunate enough to be in a dorm on one bank of the Raritan River where I had a clear view of Johnson Park on the other side of the river in Piscataway.  Johnson Park is a county park with a little old half mile oval (if you look in the annual Trotting and Pacing guide, you will see Johnson Park listed as "Pisc").  One weekend every year during the Middlesex County Fair which seemed to occur somewhere else, there was harness racing, featuring initially the Garden State Stakes before they developed the NJFS series.  There, drivers from Freehold and the Meadowlands started their younger not ready for prime time horses to learn the racing game.  As for seating, you got to sit on the hill overlooking the track.

Other than that one weekend a year, the track was used for training purposes with people shipping in daily to just jog around the track.  When the pressure of school got to me, I would sit outside on the balcony and just watch the horses jog around on the empty track (it got a little cold during the winter when it snowed to watch) because for me it was pure relaxation.

Unfortunately, the powers to be decided to end the NJ fair circuit so Johnson Park no longer hosts races (I understand people still use the track for training).  I feel sorry for those who never had the opportunity I had to experience harness racing in its purest form for without experiencing fair racing, racing is nothing but gambling.

Heading for the wire first time (Photo Courtesy of Allan Schott)
Which is why these days I look forward to the 4th of July weekend at Goshen.  These days, I depend on someone to drive and help push the wheelchair when I run out of gas but I am in heaven when I get to attend.  This year I was there for the NYCF stakes, the bottom of the barrel for NY sired horses; many races going for $1,900 or so but still a fun day.  I got to visit a trainer that I am friends with who is stabled at Historic Track and it was like old home week. 

Even though it was the cheapest day of races of the four days, the 2,000 seat grandstand was filled up enough to make many a track manager envious of the crowd.

Post parade for the third race (Photo courtesy of Allan Schott)

Admittedly, most of the horses and trainers you wouldn't see regularly downstate as the NYCF races are primarily held in the northern portions of the state.  It was nice to see trainers I used to see racing in Saratoga years ago still in the business, perhaps training more than driving these days.

How much do I look forward to Goshen?  This year marked thirty-three years since I attended my first meet at this national landmark.  How can someone make a point of traveling an hour to go to a track without wagering?  It is easy, it reinvigorates you being amongst those who appreciate racing for a sport, not a gambling product.

I was talking to someone earlier today who laments the loss of fair racing in New Jersey.  I concur, it was a loss.  But I guess that is what happens when a state looks at racing as purely big business and with the Meadowlands having opened up, there was no time for the sport; it became a business so the expense it cost to host a weekend of racing at training centers got to be too much.  In some ways, racing got to big for its britches in the Garden State, no place for the little guy; the one who while hoping to make money with their horses primarily raced for the fun of it. 

The loss of the fairs in New Jersey was emblematic of the carpet bagging ways of horsemen who abandoned New Jersey the moment purses were significantly cut.  No time or expense available for fair racing not only meant the end of fair racing, but also helped horsemen forget why they got into the business in the first place.  Be it an industry insider or a racing fan, it should be mandatory for everyone to visit the fairs at least once a year to remember what racing is really about.

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