For the last couple of years, I’ve taken part in the Open Space Pace – an event that’s sponsored by a number of Monmouth County businesses to highlight how important the equine industry is to the overall New Jersey economy.

So anytime we hear how horseracing in particular is a dying sport, I look to events like the Haskell Invitational as a way to hold out hope that the equine industry can survive.

This year’s event was promising – in that just a bit over 35 thousand people attended the invitational – however that number was down about 12 hundred from last year.

But since there’s a perception that horseracing is a sport for an older demographic – one would have to wonder why it is that so many families make it a point of going to the track for an event like the Haskell.

Is it because it’s a “once a year” thing – like the Triple Crown?

Or is there still a latent interest in the sport – albeit not attracting the numbers it once did.
However the crowd was enthusiastic once the horses were out of the starting gate.

People who placed bets had their tickets in hand and thousands cheered as the horses headed for the last stretch of the big race.

A sea of red Haskell hats filled in the grandstand and some people threw the tickets on the green cement as winner Bayern crossed the finish line.

Zach Focht, of Wyomissing, Pennsylvania said it was his first time at the Haskell.
“I thought the facilities were really nice, I thought the way it was promoted was well done,” Focht said. “It’s been a great day overall.”

Kara and Ron Christie, of Long Branch, brought their two children, Cole, 2, and Cameron, 4, to the race.

“The kids had fun they liked petting the horses,” Kara Christie said, adding that Cole picked the winning horse for the big race, but they didn’t place a bet on it.

Erik and Allyson Beshore, of Shrewsbury, said they both used to work at Monmouth Park and while they didn’t win on the horse they bet, they had a good time.

“We come back every year,” Erik Beshore said.

Cousins Tom Demko, of Wayne, and Louis Nassaney, of Clifton, said they frequent Monmouth Park and have rarely missed a Haskell race.

“We love Monmouth Park and the Haskell’s always a great day,” Demko said. “It was good to see a big crowd out here today.”

My “bet” is that, despite the downturn in casino revenues in Atlantic City (since there’s little demand for more casinos there) - and even though events like the Haskell are "once a year" events - were there to be other attractions like “racinos” in places like Freehold Raceway, Monmouth Park, and the Meadowlands – chances are you’d see a renewed interest in the sport of horseracing – and a salvaging of a vital part of the economy of New Jersey.