Back when I worked there, they would run races Monday through Saturday, with Sundays off. For nine summers (1974-1982), I’d get to the track around 9:30 every morning, and I wouldn’t get home until around 6:30 or so. My face and arms would be covered with sweat and newsprint, but I didn’t care. I made a nice buck.
The job served a purpose – it helped me pay for my college education. When I attended Glassboro State College, it cost approximately $5,000 a year. That price included tuition, fees, meal plan, books, my expenses for an entire year. . . the works!! Nowadays, $5,000 will barely pay for a semester’s worth of tuition at a small college.
My old boss Joe was an old-time newspaper salesman who worked “The Circuit” – the Florida tracks (Hialeah, Gulfstream, or Calder) in the winter, one of the Maryland tracks (Pimlico, Laurel, or Bowie) in the spring; and Monmouth Park in the summer. He had the fall off until the Meadowlands opened in 1976, and then he picked up that track, too.
Joe was at the track for so long – my dad worked for him in the 1950’s when he was attending college at St. Peter’s in Jersey City. My dad’s whole family worked selling Forms for Joe – my Uncle George and three of my dad’s cousins. They all started there after the families moved to Long Branch from Jersey City in 1949.
While I worked there, I got to see some great horses run. Forego, Ruffian, and Wajima immediately come to mind. Bob Weems was one of the greatest race track announcers of all time. His voice graced Monmouth Park for many years until he retired in 1993. He passed away soon afterwards. Some of the characters I met there were unbelievable. . .but I’ll save those stories for another time. . .
I recently took a trip back to the track on August 5, a Sunday. It’s sad to see how badly things have gotten since I worked there. In 1974, there used to be 15,000 people there on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays; around 17,000 on Wednesday; 20,000 people easy on Friday. On Saturday, the track used to do a minimum of 25,000 people. Back then, the place was closed on Sundays. Nowadays, the place is lucky if they get four or five thousand people a day – and they only run four days a week instead of six.
But besides the declining attendance, what’s also sad is the fact that the opportunity to make some real money as an employee isn’t there anymore. With diminished crowds come diminished sales. Sometimes I wonder how the place manages to stay open, and I can’t imagine how the money that a college kid makes there could make a dent in their college expenses.
Simulcasting has helped hold off the inevitable for a while. Hopefully, someone in state government will come to their senses and allow slot machines and sports betting to keep the old place going.
But until that all happens, the race tracker in all of us holds their collective breath.
(You can also follow Kevin Cieri’s blog on his Facebook page, “Jersey Shore Retro” as well as on Twitter at @jsretro).