Far Hills restricts drinking, aims to add betting

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Patrons at this fall’s Far Hills Races in New Jersey will be able to bet via pari-mutuel wagering; they also won’t be allowed to drink as much alcohol.

The developments are unrelated, but dramatic, in terms of American steeplechase racing and especially Far Hills. The richest meet on the circuit at $500,000 in purses mixes all that is right in American jump racing – a beautiful setting, classy racing, 50,000 spectators and big money for a worthy charity.

For years, the North Jersey fall fixture has also stood out in another category – rowdy behavior. Thousands of general-admission ticketholders arrive via New Jersey transit trains, buses, cars or on foot and create the equivalent of a roving party along the lines of the Preakness infield – before things got civilized. Organizers have taken steps to curb the practice, to little avail, for several years. This year, general-admission ticketholders will no longer be able to bring in alcoholic beverages though alcohol will be permitted at tailgate parties and in corporate and individual tents. The move is designed with safety, and order, in mind.

“We’re going back to the way it was, with private parties and tailgating,” said Guy Torsilieri, co-chairman of the meet. “If you’re coming on a general admission ticket, you are still welcome but you’re going to a party somewhere or you’re behaving better. Now, we have these extremely large, hostless parties. It’s not somebody’s family party, it’s a mob of people. There’s no ownership of that party and that’s where the uncontrolled, underage and other drinking happens.”

The new rules include:

  1. General admission ticketholders entering pedestrian gates will not be permitted to bring in alcohol. Spectators will be subject to search and hand-held metal detectors.
  2. Only reserved parking spot holders, tent holders and registered caterers are permitted to bring alcohol on the property for their private parties.
  3. All caterers are required to register with the Far Hills Race Meeting Association in advance. Unregistered deliveries of alcohol to the race grounds are prohibited.
  4. All buses are required to register with the Far Hills Race Meeting Association prior to the event.
  5. Entrance will be denied to visibly intoxicated attendees.

Additionally, organizers will work with New Jersey Transit, with updates provided in the coming months.Underage drinking and DUI laws will be strictly enforced. Failure to comply with any of the above rules will result in removal from the event.

In recent years, Far Hills created a family tailgating/picnic area, stepped up alcohol and safety enforcement efforts, installed a vendor area and added large-screen television screens to improve race viewership, all with a goal of de-emphasizing the party scene. The moves helped, but did not eliminate problems.

“We’ve been asking for several years for better behavior and so forth, but it escalated to a point where we had to do something,” said Torsilieri. “We’ve met with the (Far Hills) chief of police, the mayor and the race committees and we realize that people aren’t listening. So now we’re going to tell.”

Torsilieri expects to lose some revenue in decreased general-admission ticket sales, but also expects a cleaner, more orderly event. The races, held for the 93rd time Saturday, Oct. 19, benefit the Somerset Medical Center and have raised more than $18 million since the 1950s.

State approves betting

Countering the new alcohol policies, Far Hills will – for the first time – conduct full pari-mutuel wagering on the card thanks to being included on a recently passed bill to permit horse racing on the beach in Atlantic City next year. Mimicking the famed Palio race in Italy, which dates back 700 years, the beach race is slated for Oct. 11-12. As that proposal for a short-term racing event went through the New Jersey legislature, the Far Hills provision was included and the bill passed. It is expected to be signed by Gov. Chris Christie.

Several years ago, the National Steeplechase Association and Far Hills tried to implement account wagering on races at the site, but abandoned the concept at the last hour when threatened with a lawsuit by the state racing commission. If passed, the new law clears the way for the racing commission, Far Hills and the NSA to implement wagering this fall.

“Additional revenue to our charity is the goal, always,” said Torsilieri. “The next step is we have to sit down with commission and hammer out the details and we don’t know what the details are yet but we’re excited about it and the steps are in place to make it a reality.”

Torsilieri, also the NSA president, sees a bigger step for steeplechasing with the potential for wagering on the various one-day race meets during the season. The NSA conducts more than 30 meets in 10 states – some with pari-mutuel laws and some without. The only meet that has consistently conducted betting is Fair Hill in Maryland. Former meet Morven Park tried on-site wagering years ago, before widespread use of simulcasting, account wagering and self-serve tote machines. The Virginia Gold Cup held betting at its meet on Kentucky Derby Day and expects to do so again in October. Torsilieri and others in the steeplechase industry see betting as a way to increase revenue and attention.

“Beyond Far Hills, the bigger story for steeplechasing is we’re proving we can do this,” Torsilieri said. “The Gold Cup did it, it was a success. You could see this model happening, slowly, around our circuit. It can enhance the meets, enhance the product and create more reason to follow it.”


For more, see:

Far Hills Races website.

Bergen Record news report.