NJ Steeplechase Event Wagering Grows

Saturday's racing in Far Hills drew more than $600,000 in bets
far hills steeplechase

A record $620,707 was wagered on Saturday at the Far Hills Race Meeting, a popular steeplechase event in Somerset County for more than 100 years.

The legal wagering aspect is relatively new to the venerable event, with the first such bets having been taken in 2018.

“I would say that it was very successful, with it being such a nice day and with the handle almost doubling from last year,” Dennis Drazin, who operates Monmouth Park for the New Jersey Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association, told NJ Online Gambling.

The horsemen surrender one “Monmouth-at-Meadowlands” fall meet date each year to the steeplechase event, and Drazin said he expects that to continue.

The event, which offered purses totaling $625,000 for seven races, was featured for the second straight year on FOX Sports 2’s America’s Day at the Races program. Horse racing players from a variety of states, including New York, had an opportunity to place bets.

Forbes race featured

New this year was the $100,000 John Forbes Memorial Race, honoring the legendary horseman who died in January 2021.

John Forbes was synonymous with Monmouth Park for 40 years in a variety of roles,” Drazin said. “He was a tireless advocate for racing, for the industry and for Monmouth Park, and it’s only fitting that he has a race named in his honor.”

Forbes won 2,174 races over a 40-year training career that started in 1972. He finished as Monmouth Park’s leading trainer five times and eventually became NJTHA president.

Drazin said the largest handle of the day was for the Forbes race, as many handicappers focused specifically on that two-mile competition with a field of 18.

Five-year-old Agitare, who was making his United States debut, won the race as a 19/1 shot for trainer Keri Brion.

“I got him two months ago from [trainer] Jim Bolger, and they thought very highly of him,” Brion, whose horse won by 4 ¾ lengths in a time of 3:36, told AmericasBestRacing.net. “I knew he would love the track. We go slower here and an Irish horse is used to these conditions.”

Grand National the marquee event

The biggest purse, of $250,000, was reserved for the Grand National contest.

Hewick, a 7-year-old gelding who was the 2/1 second choice, won the big race by 11 1/2 lengths for Irish trainer John “Shark” Hanlon in the 2 5/8th marathon.

The purchase of Hewick for under $1,000 in 2017 has led the horse to be known as “The People’s Champion.”

“There were Irish people from all over America who came to Far Hills just to watch Hewick,” Hanlon told racingpost.com. “I met people originally from Cork and Donegal and all over Ireland, and they told me they’d driven three or four hours just to see Hewick. They’d seen the coverage the horse had got in the lead-up to the race and wanted to be there.”

In all but the Forbes Memorial flat race, the jockeys had to abide by New Jersey regulations allowing them to use their crop only as a safety measure.

Origins of the alliance

Drazin said that while efforts to bring an Italian-style “Il Palio” horse race to the Atlantic City beach almost a decade ago did not pan out, the innovative concept led Far Hills steeplechase officials to reach out to see if a partnership was possible.

That led to the introduction of a bill in Trenton in 2016 that became law.

In 2019, betting machines were on-site for the steeplechase event. There was no race in 2020 due to COVID-19 concerns, and the $341,405 wagered in 2021 came from mobile wagering only.

The card included a 20-cent Pick Six and a 50-cent Pick 5.

The Monmouth-at-Meadowlands nine-date meet concludes with racing on Friday and Saturday with first post time of 7 p.m.

Lead photo: Alexander Lewis/MyCentralJersey/USA TODAY


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