Unlimited Booze Needs to End at Races, Far Hills Mayor Says
Better crowd control and ban of outside alcohol needed for longtime event to continue, Vallone says.
The Borough of Far Hills, the Somerset Medical Center and the Far Hills Race Meeting have had a decades-long relationship to host the annual steeplechase horse races at Moorland Farms as a benefit for the hospital in Somerville, including the facility's Steepchase Cancer Center.
But even so, in order for the races to continue into the future, changes must be made to halt the many cases of drunkenness, public urination, drug use and sales and other disorderly behavior that marked last Saturday's event, Far Hills Mayor Paul Vallone insists.
The Borough Council already had a discussion on the matter at Monday's meeting, which he said was attended by the race meeting's president, Guy Torsilieri, at which Vallone said that an end to excessive alcohol consumption and underage drinking is an issue on which there will be "no negotiation."
Vallone, and also Far Hills Police Chief Ken Hartman, said that three juveniles in an extreme state of intoxication had to be transported from the race site to Somerset Medical Center, the very institution the event has long supported.
"We appreciate that this event raises money for a very good cause," Vallone said on Wednesday afternoon. "But the event has become almost uncontrollable."
At future meetings, the Borough Council — which is responsible for each year granting a permit for the race to take place — will refine ideas already discussed about only allowing alcohol to be sold on the premises, rather than allowing unlimited and unregulated food and drink to be brought in — and perhaps capping the number of attendees, Vallone said.
The Far Hills mayor said that allowing vendors to sell alcohol would allow more control over who is permitted to purchase drinks. As at professional baseball or football games, alcohol sales could be halted before the the sporting events end to allow people time to "sober up."
Vallone said that problems are more common in the lower area of the field, but there have even been some problems in previous years at the larger tailgating sites and corporate tents further up the hill.
In recent years, he said, cars and busloads bearing already intoxicated racegoers from other states and throughout New Jersey have been arriving even before the event actually begins.
Some of those leave later and attempt to drive home while intoxicated — a concern that prompted other nearby communities, including Bernards Township, Bernardsville and Bedminster Township to add extra police patrols. Although Far Hills receives reimbursement from the race meeting association for hiring extra police, those surrounding communities do not.
Although police and the mayor said that there are 20 officers posted in Far Hills outside the event, and almost another 200 assigned within Moorland Farms, located off Route 202 in compact Far Hills.
But even those inside the race were confronted with an overwhelming number of incidents, Vallone said.
During the afternoon event, for which the gates at Moorland Farms opened on Saturday mornings, there were 25 arrests for violations that ranged from theft and trespassing, to assault, disorderly conduct, public urination and more, Hartman reported on Tuesday. Most were males in their early to mid-20s, and several were from other states, including California and Maryland, according to his information.
In the past, Vallone said that much of the discussion after each race centered on how the race association would improve security in the future. But now he said borough officials want a more pro-active approach.
Vallone said borough officials expect to have some discussions with the race association and the medical center in the next few weeks, and to refine plans for changes at future races at public Borough Council meetings, likely in December or January.