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. William March: Capin and Cruz appear destined for District 1 race

    Local Government

    Tampa City Council member Yolie Capin and state Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, appear headed for a primary in the District 1 County Commission race, which has Democrats worried they'll once again have strong candidates competing against each other in primaries, to the detriment of their chances against Republicans.

    Times Correspondent William March
  2. Watch: Gorilla dances like a 'maniac' in kiddie pool

    Blogs

    Zola, a gorilla who resides at the Dallas Zoo, has gone viral after showing off his dance moves.
  3. Bill Clinton coming to Miami Beach on Saturday for mayors' convention

    Blogs

    From our friends at the Miami Herald:

    Former President Bill Clinton gives the opening address to kick off a meeting of International Aid Groups at the InterAction Forum 2017 at the Washington Convention Center on June 20.
  4. Obama's secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin's election assault

    National

    WASHINGTON — Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried "eyes only" instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and Barack Obama shake hands at the COP21 UN Conference on Climate Change in Paris, France, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. [Mikhail Klimentyev | Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP]
  5. GOP's challenge: Finding votes for Senate health care bill (w/video)

    National

    WASHINGTON — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has finally unwrapped his plan for dismantling President Barack Obama's health care law. Now comes his next challenge — persuading enough Republicans to back the measure and avert a defeat that could be shattering for President Donald Trump and the GOP.

    Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., speaks to reporters at the Capitol after Republicans released their long-awaited bill to scuttle much of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 22, 2017. He is one of four GOP senators to say they are opposed it but are open to negotiations, which could put the measure in immediate jeopardy. [Associated Press]