This summer, all bets are on — at least at Monmouth Park.
The historic horse-racing track and Jersey Shore stalwart added legal sports betting to their pony wagering in June, and attendance has jumped.
“I think gambling is less taboo now,” says Chuck Pergola, a bartender from Spring Lake Heights, NJ, who’s made many visits to Monmouth Park to bet on baseball and future college football games. “You’re going to find that a lot of people who didn’t gamble before are now betting.”
But it’s more than betting that’s bringing visitors to the track, which dates back to 1870. There are now plenty of kid-friendly activities, too.
Joe Conte of Staten Island enjoys a cigar and checks out a racing form in the picnic area.Stefano GiovanniniWhen Naples, Fla., resident Ellen Wolfenson visits her daughter and niece at the Shore, her clan always gathers for a day at the track.
“This is a big family day to hang out and get together,” says Wolfenson. “I’m not a bettor. My niece and nephew love it, though. It’s such a nice little picnic area and we can bring our own food and drink. It’s an affordable day out.”
Admission for the grandstand is $5 and children under 12 are admitted free on Sundays, when there’s a bouncy house, face-painting and pony rides. There’s even a minigolf course.
Visitors who bring their own food and drinks can enjoy them at tables set at a sprawling picnic ground. But even if you’ve come empty-handed, there’s plenty of grub. Max’s Famous Hot Dogs, a Long Branch, NJ, institution, opened up an outlet this summer on the track’s grounds. It’s a delightful addition for Michele Fischer, who works in Kentucky’s racing industry and often comes north for business.
“When we’re here, we always go to the original Max’s,” says Fischer, “so it’s great that there’s one at the track now.”
Michele Fischer and Jake Nowry chow down on Max’s Famous Hot Dogs.Stefano GiovanniniThose who don’t place their wagers at the William Hill betting windows can do it inside the television-set-filled sports bar, which serves pizzas, burgers and other pub fare. Pergola, the visiting bartender, gives it a thumbs-up.
“The room is great and the food is good,” he says. “They have plenty of televisions and plenty of areas to sit. Once college football hits and there are games all day long, I will be there.”
He won’t be the only one. Monmouth Park is expecting big crowds Sept. 2 and Sept. 9 — the opening weekends for college football and the NFL, respectively, while the horse races continue.
But it isn’t only about placing bets at “The Shore’s Greatest Stretch,” which is only a mile from the beach.
After a day at the races, folks can drive or cab to nearby Pier Village in Long Branch, which has everything from a Luke’s Lobster to wine bars and seafood joints. Or they can stay at the park and eat on the decks or inside the glass-enclosed dining room at Blu Grotto Ristorante, just a quick walk from the picnic area.
The park has a bouncy house for kids.Stefano GiovanniniIf you lost your shirt, there’s a cheaper option: the Blu Grotto’s new beer garden, open from Thursday to Sunday. With more than 20 beers on tap, as well as Neapolitan pizza and other casual fare, it’s the perfect post-race destination.
Between the ponies, the food and the minigolf, even losers at the track can feel like winners.
175 Oceanport Ave., Oceanport, NJ. NJ Transit Coast Line train runs through Sept. 9, when horse-racing season finishes . By car, take Exit 105 off the Garden State Parkway. Details at MonmouthPark.com
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