Who is ready to watch the Kentucky Derby this weekend? I am, I am! Most people in the US think of Horse racing or major equestrian events they think of Kentucky, Florida, and California. But I want you to know that New Jersey holds a long and beautiful history with horses, and it continues on to this day?
Living in Monmouth County, New Jersey has a multitude of benefits. I live 15 minutes from the beach....
This is my view during summer evenings, just a few miles from my home.
....and although technically the suburbs of NYC (which I can see on a clear day at the beach), I am surrounded by green space and farms. It’s perfection. I joke with my husband that it’s no wonder everyone who grows up here eventually comes back. Of course that’s not to say all of New Jersey is gorgeous farms and green space. Anyone flying in to Newark Airport sees oils refineries and the port and thinks that is all our state has to offer. Not so, my friends, not so.
Awhile ago I was doing research for another post and found that the state animal of New Jersey is actually the horse. Yup. New Jersey has a rich history with equines. In fact, the first racetrack in the United States was in Monmouth County- Freehold Raceway, which began operating in the 1830’s. Even closer to my home is well-known Monmouth Park, originally named Long Brach Racetrack.
Long Branch Racetrack and its owners ranked among the most influential figures in the thoroughbred racing world, and helped form the Jockey Club in 1894.
Monmouth Park Racetrack in Long Branch, NJ featured Triple Crown winner American Pharaoh in the Haskell Invitational in 2016.
Since 1968, Monmouth Park’s marquee event has been the Haskell Invitational, the major race between the Triple Crown and Breeders Cup series. The event was named after Amory Haskell, who was instrumental in bringing racing back to New Jersey in the 1940s. A recent article in the Asbury Park Press notes that this year's Kentucky Derby contender, Irish War Cry, is a New Jersey bred thoroughbred. He is owned by a daughter of Amory Haskell (yes the very same mentioned above), and previous owners of the barn where I ride, Lancaster Equestrian Stables.
Did you know the Thoroughbred Daily News, is published here in Red Bank, New Jersey just down the street from me.
Of course not all horse racing forums are limited to Monmouth County. One of the more famous racetracks is at The Meadowlands. The Meadowlands became a venue for harness racing and thoroughbred racing the in the 1970’s. But historically there was horse racing in Newark, Hoboken, Atlantic City, and more.
New Jersey doesn't limit itself to thoroughbred racing. Although perhaps lesser known nationally, but infamous in the New York Metro area is The Hunt. This is not to be confused with the local Haskell Hunt held in Middletown, New Jersey until 1996. (I will venture into in that one in another post.) The Hunt is a steeplechase race currently held in Far Hills, NJ each October, and was originally a fox hunting event in northern New Jersey as far back as 1870.
Finally, ever heard of Jersey Fresh International? An Olympic-level International three-day event held every year at the Horse Park of New Jersey.
The Jersey Fresh International Three-Day Event will take place May 10th through 14th, at the Horse Park of New Jersey – a premier venue that draws equestrian sports’ top competitors. Marking its 15th anniversary in 2017, over the years JFI has helped determine both United States’ and Canadian World Equestrian Games and Pan Am Games Teams, and was proud to be – once again – a qualifying selection event for the U.S. Olympic Eventing Team, whose athletes competed in the Rio de Janeiro Summer Games in August 2016.
I moved to New Jersey by way of Washington State and California as a young child, and spent most of my life here. I've traveled the world and am always amazed at the reputation of New Jersey. Recently a friend brought her dog from New York City for me to massage. She'd never really spent much time in New Jersey and was shocked that it was so green and beautiful. Since she is a friend, I took her and her dog for a tour and a walk on the beach in the middle of February. She was dumbfounded by how beautiful it really is here.
So there it is. Despite its reputation, New Jersey has a rich history of equestrian pursuits and has the most horses per square mile out of any other state. I guess it's called "The Garden State" for a reason.
I'm rooting for Irish War Cry to win the Kentucky Derby this weekend. Who do you think is a contender?
About the writer: Heather Wallace of Monmouth County, New Jersey is a certified equine and canine sports massage therapist, co-owner of Bridle & Bone Wellness LLC, and equestrian & canine blogger at Bridle & Bone. She is an adult amateur equestrian and has two rescue dogs, Gonzo and Beau.