Monday, July 27, 2015

Pharoah's Shacking Up In Kelly Breen's Barn...How About You?

America's Favorite Triple Crown winner is coming to Oceanport on Wednesday, in case you hadn't heard (and rumor has it he's already on trainer Bob Baffert's back about scoring chili cheese dogs for the two of them from Max's).

In perhaps the most monumental day in Monmouth Park's history, American Pharoah clearly is the hot ticket for Sunday's Grade 1 Haskell Invitational.  

Baffert and his steed head for Haskell, Max's glory?
After landing at Atlantic City Airport, Pharoah will have a motorcade to Monmouth Park, where he'll be crashing on trainer Kelly Breen's couch for a few days in advance of being the 1-9 favorite, but rumor has it you might have a harder time with accommodations and getting into and around Oceanport.

Fear Not, NJ Horseplayer Is Here To Help

In the spirit as one of just a few volunteer "Racing Ambassadors" at Monmouth Park, I'll provide unsolicited advice on accommodations, dining and other words to the wise, leading off with travel options and some area hotels to consider.

Getting to Monmouth Park on Sunday is going to be treacherous, make no bones about it.

Word is there's no cap on general admission tickets, and 60,000 are projected to attend.

I live barely 10 minutes away and am somewhat fearful of driving in and parking at 9 a.m., but will likely do so since my wife, kids and other family are coming in later from Middletown train station, where parking is abundant and the train is 3 stops north of Monmouth.  A one-way train ticket's a good option in that regard if you have a ride out after the races, and I'm their lift home.

Drive At Your Own Risk

There's one primary thoroughfare in and out of Oceanport: Route 36, accessible from Garden State Parkway Exit 105.  

It's a short highway that turns from four lanes off the Parkway into two and backs up all the time even without the strain of a Haskell crowd (usually 35,000-40,000). 

Sunday's looking like a solid beach day, so prepare for the worst and heavy beach traffic, especially getting out of the parking lot after the Haskell and if headed north up the Parkway. 

Local roads are generally a hassle-free escape on a typical track day, but with record-high crowds expected for Haskell Day, the police from host Oceanport have already issued a press release pertaining to road closures and not parking on Borough streets.  Oceanport Avenue will be closed entirely from 7 a.m.-9 p.m. up to Port Au Peck Avenue, so avoid driving if possible.

Stay tuned to Oceanport Police's Twitter feed (@OPDnj) for additional warnings.

Monmouth Park's management already sounded that warning (albeit buried in its press release), and in a supposed bid to discourage people from driving/parking and to encourage the use of New Jersey Transit trains, will charge you $20 to park in the general lots and $40 for valet. 

Carpool and plan on tailgating after the races for an hour or two if you must drive, but with WordOnTheShore reporting road closures as well in Eatontown (the part of Rt. 36 between the Parkway and Oceanport), consider the other major option.

Use NJ Transit Trains

As noted, there's a lot of parking at Middletown train station, but several other nearby options from which to choose.

I have never had to take the train to the track, but as a New York City commuter from the Jersey Shore area can lend some advice.  

My only hope is that Monmouth Park management does a better job than the NYRA did with last year's Belmont Stakes mass transit, which by all accounts was a disaster.  Monmouth is reporting the addition of trains to and from the track, but I am a bit unclear whether the typical train package that includes train fare, track admission and a program, will be offered as usual...or how many "additional" trains will be added on Sunday.

(Tuesday update 1 p.m., New Jersey's Transportation Commissioner confirms to Asbury Park Press that northbound trains will be added on the evening runs and encourages people to buy round-trip tickets in advance; please note too that the Monmouth Park stop is not ADA compliant.)

Regardless, the train stop is on the back side of the track and it's just a short walk.

The line runs from Bay Head to the south all the way to New York's Penn Station.  

Here's the latest timetable I could find for the North Jersey Coastline

If you are starting by car from anywhere north of the Driscoll Bridge or, say, the New Brunswick area, favorable park-and-ride options South Amboy, Aberdeen or Middletown stations have more-abundant parking than the likes of Little Silver (right next door to Oceanport).  

South Amboy, my original hometown, is 32 minutes by train to Monmouth Park and a good place to grab packaged goods for the ride and has decent eateries after the train ride back north. 

If you're driving from the south and need to park and ride for the train, take into account potential competition with people spending the day at the beach (Belmar, for one); on that front I'm less useful, so please do you own research on best train stop for your needs. 

Hotel and Train

Monmouth Park lists some partner hotels on its primary website, but there are other options in the surrounding area to consider.  I'm not a Monmouth Park employee or a travel agent, but here are some outside-the-box places to consider if you are coming to the area for more than the day.

Red Bank:  Molly Pitcher Inn -- some rooms available on Sunday night and an easy walk to the train station, plus access to great dining and nightlife. 

Route 35 Corridor (between Keyport and Middletown): There are some basic hotels such as the Holiday Inn (Hazlet) that put you within earshot of the NJ Transit line to Monmouth Park; more your standard-fare business traveler hotel, but acceptable for an overnight stay instead of a long drive home in Sunday evening beach traffic.

Lincroft: There are two business-traveler/suite-style hotels off Exit 109 of the Parkway right near my house -- Courtyard Lincroft Marriott and Extended Stay Red Bank that are less than five minutes from the Red Bank and Little Silver train stations.  More convenient than the 35 Corridor.

Tinton Falls:  Last but not least, my current hometown.  Courtyard and Residence Inn are probably tops, but there are a handful of others as well right off of Route 36 just off the Parkway.  The disadvantage is you're a 5-minute drive without traffic to Monmouth Park, but mass transit's a little more of a hassle, since you're circumventing Eatontown to get to the Long Branch station to the south or the Red Bank Station to the north.  Still, solid accommodations and you can say you slept in the same town as NJ Horseplayer headquarters.

NJ Horseplayer's House:  Tongue in cheek, my kids rooms are available for $500 a night.  Includes breakfast and my free selections for Haskell Day, which'll only put you even deeper in debt.

Beach Hotel and Train

Generally speaking, these places are too close to my house for me to actually stay a night for a vacation, but here are some places I found that have rooms available, at least for Sunday night, where you're right in the hub of a beach town and with access to the train.

Long Branch:  Ocean Place is expensive, but right on the boardwalk.

Asbury Park: The Berkeley is right on the oceanfront and the revived Asbury is akin to Red Bank to the north in terms of great dining and nightlife and boasts the famous Stone Pony.

Belmar, Spring Lake and Point Pleasant are other shore towns to the south with hotels; I recommend scouring for more details.

Airbnb might be an option worth exploring as well.  Already there are even a few people in Oceanport trying to fleece Haskell visitors over the Haskell Weekend.


I hope you find this info helpful, and come back for my next post on NJ Horseplayer's favorite eateries in the area.

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