Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Fond memories of special times at a horse track

Aylward was in his element at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

Courtesy of Jim Aylward

Aylward was in his element at Monmouth Park in New Jersey.

I've always loved horses. No, I've never been on the prairie or the buttes in the Max Brand novels. But to look at the beauty of a thoroughbred, to be at the track on a sunny afternoon, to meet the people who make it all happen — jockeys, trainers, owners — that's a treat.

In the early '80s, I gained a little celebrity with a radio show I did each morning on WRFM in New York City. I had a lot of sponsors. I sold Blackberry Julep. I pitched Ben Ric fur coats. I spoke for Mercedes-Benz Manhattan. And then, a racetrack joined the show. I was in heaven.

My interest in horses started with my father. He read Western novels every weekend, sitting in his Morris chair in our old living room. That chair was great. It was leather-bound cushions on a wood frame that adjusted like a lawn chair. You could have it straight up, partly reclined or even zonked out as a bed. He had it way back like a sleeper. He didn't sleep. He read about horses, gunfights, bunkhouses and corrals.

I do the same thing today. I found out my father was onto something. The old Western novels are a thrill to read. Great writing. Terrific plots. People and places you care about. Escape!

In those days my dad didn't have Dick Francis. I have read and re-read all of the 45 Francis novels, and the new ones with his son, Felix. Francis doesn't do Westerns; he's British. But he does horse racing and every aspect of it with stories that hold you page after page, to the final word.

So when Monmouth Park, Monmouth, N.J., joined the show, I was at home with them, and I think they were at home with me. Before long, someone suggested I might like to do a Jim Aylward Day at the track in which I would present the award to the winning jockey, trainer and owners at the feature race. I agreed to do it, and I have a couple of trophies to prove it. I did the first Aylward Day, and shortly after they sent me a sculpture of a racehorse on a block of walnut with the inscription, "Jim Aylward Day Monmouth Park July 16, 1981." It sits on the top of my desk today, as it has for years.

In 1982 they sent me another sculpture — a bronze jockey with a saddle at the foot mounted on another block of walnut, a pole rising behind the figure, making it into a lamp. It's been the lamp on my desk ever since.

We did the event for three years. We'd take a limo to the park, sit in a VIP box, have crab cakes and cold beer, and then I'd go down to the track. The third year we arrived, it was hot and muggy. I said to our host, "Bill, the first year we came here, there was a lovely breeze. The second year a breeze. This year we hit hot and humid!"

Bill said, "Oh, Mr. Aylward, would you like a breeze?" And he threw a switch on the wall and the hidden fans above went on. There was my soft summer breeze. Electric!

The VIP boxes were surrounded with geraniums. The flags were flying. We sat in green metal chairs with matching green cushions. It was easy to love Monmouth Park.

Twenty-six years later, as I write this column, I'm complete with little bandages on my face and forehead from a visit to my dermatologist. Removal of mysterious little growths, needles in cheekbones, stitches are forgotten as I look at photos of the days at Monmouth Park — the good old days when I was just 51.

New Port Richey resident Jim Aylward was formerly a nationally syndicated columnist and radio host in New York City. Write him in care of LifeTimes, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

Fond memories of special times at a horse track 11/24/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 24, 2009 3:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Manhattan Casino choice causes political headache for Kriseman

    Growth

    ST. PETERSBURG — Days before the mayoral primary, Mayor Rick Kriseman's decision to let a Floribbean restaurant open in Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino has caused political angst within the voting bloc he can least afford to lose: the black community.

    Last week Mayor Rick Kriseman chose a Floribbean restaurant concept to fill Midtown's historic Manhattan Casino. But that decision, made days before next week's mayoral primary, has turned into a political headache for the mayor. Many residents want to see the building's next tenant better reflect its cultural significance in the black community. [JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times]
  2. FSU-Bama 'almost feels like a national championship game Week 1'

    Blogs

    The buzz is continuing to build for next Saturday's blockbuster showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 3 Florida State.

  3. Plan a fall vacation at Disney, Universal, Busch Gardens when crowds are light

    Florida

    Now that the busy summer vacation season is ending, Floridians can come out to play.

    Maria Reyna, 8, of Corpus Cristi, TX. eats chicken at the Lotus Blossom Cafe at the Chinese pavilion at Epcot in Orlando, Fla. on Thursday, August 17, 2017.  Epcot is celebrating it's 35th year as the upcoming Food and Wine Festival kicks off once again.
  4. USF spends $1.5 million to address growing demand for student counseling

    College

    TAMPA — As Florida's universities stare down a mental health epidemic, the University of South Florida has crafted a plan it hopes will reach all students, from the one in crisis to the one who doesn't know he could use some help.

    A student crosses the University of South Florida campus in Tampa, where visits to the school's crisis center more than doubled last year, part of a spike in demand that has affected colleges across the country. The university is addressing the issue this year with $1.5 million for more "wellness coaches," counselors, online programs and staff training. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  5. PTA treasurer at Pinellas school accused of stealing $5,000

    Crime

    The treasurer of the Parent-Teacher Association at a Pinellas County elementary school faces a felony fraud charge after she was accused of stealing from the organization to pay her credit card and phone bills.

    Lisa McMenamin, 50, of Tarpon Springs, is facing felony charges of scheming to defraud the Brooker Creek Elementary Parent-Teacher Association, where she served as treasurer. She is accused of stealing $5,000 to pay credit card and phone bills. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]