Black Willow: The Heart of the Monmouth Park Racetrack

by Brooke Wheaton

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The racetrack is a world of polarized extremes.  During horse races, everything is loud when it’s silent; the track is crazy yet peaceful. You can be the most satisfied person in the world or the most disappointed. That is part of its magic and charm, and what initially drew me to horses and racing.

When I went to the Monmouth Park Racetrack for the first time, we got there between the fifth and sixth races. With only ten more minutes left to place a bet, I rushed to the paddock. I told my father I wanted Black Willow to win. He did not ask any questions, and placed the bet. Of course, the thoroughbred was a long shot, but my dad still put in two whole dollars. Maybe he bet more money on his choice, but I still thought I was lucky to be included.

Monmouth Park Racetrack

They were off. I was as close as you could get to the rail. As the horses crossed the bend I felt goosebumps. I found I could scream louder than I ever thought possible.  Soon they would be crossing the finish line…

The Monmouth Park Racetrack has been around since 1870, and hosts major events such as the Haskell and the 2007 Breeder’s Cup. However, moments like these are becoming more difficult to find and experience.  The racetrack has shortened racing days to Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.  Monmouth Park, the organization that gives horses, trainers, owners, workers, jockeys, and any bystander an opportunity, could possibly be shut down.  Once a huge organization that was a phenomenon, is now not making any money.

Many believe that the Monmouth Park Racetrack is going downhill because of the economy. However, I believe its lack of success pertains more to social changes. When less people visit the track, we all forget what an amazing experience it could be.  From 1970 unitl 1984, the track was in its prime. Attendance was steady at around one million. 1981 was the year that attendance peaked with 1,150,658 people attending.

A beautiful day at the racetrack

However, this has changed.  Horse racing was a so successful into the 1990’s because there were  fewer technological advancements to distract us and keep us from social interaction.  There were no cell phones; Facebook, Myspace, and Instant Messaging did not exist, and people would gather socially at events like horse races.   In 1993, the Monmouth Park Racetrack’s attendance went down to 693,053.  Without surprise, this was the same year that online horse betting was established.

The first significant dip in attendance was noticed in 1985.  Prior to year 1985, the drinking age was eighteen. Many teenagers would go to bet on horses and be a part of the action. Since the national drinking age has changed to twenty-one, the racetrack is no longer an option.  In 2009 the Monmouth Park Racetrack hit an all-time low with 646,268 people attending. Nevertheless, it is not shocking since Facebook started in 2004 and its increased popularity.

A true champion

So this summer, don’t forget about Monmouth Park Racetrack.  Instead of spending your time indoors texting your friends, invite them to the racetrack.  Find that magic and excitement that I found there, through Black Willow.  And who knows; if enough people do the same, perhaps the racetrack can be saved, along with the history it represents.

…I don’t know how I knew Black Willow would win, but he came across the finish line first. My dad just laughed; I was speechless. I learned from the beginning not to look at the odds. I figured out it’s best not to choose a horse based on long shots or favorites. It’s best to use one’s own judgment and knowledge. The racing horses taught me one of the most imperative lessons of all, which is, frankly, to go with my gut.

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