The organizers of the Far Hills Race Meeting say they await more than 35,000 spectators to gather for this Saturday's steeplechase race at Moorland Farm — although Guy Torsilieri, co-chairman of the event, said he can't say yet what effect an alcohol ban for general admission ticketholders will have on overall attendance for the fundraiser for Somerset Medical Center.
Nevertheless, Torsilieri, who said that those indulging in excess revelry at previous race events had been asked to curb themselves, said the imposition of new rules, to be enforced by a private security firm and 100 hired state police, are "something that needed to be done."
"It's not only about quantity, it's quality," he said of the type of people who will be attending the race this October. "We'll see what it does to attendance."
Top of hill already sold out
The new rules to be enforced on the side of the race course on the bottom of the hill haven't adversely affected rentals of tailgating spots and corporate tent spaces at the top of the hill.
As a matter of fact, Torsilieri on Monday said that the top of the hill already was completely sold out, even sooner than usual.
At this point, there is no ban on alcohol for the generally more formal parties in the tailgating and tent spots, some of which are rented by the same racegoers year after year.
As of Monday, 10 corporate tents had been confirmed for the top of the hill this year, compared with three last year, Torsilieri said. He attributed that increase partially to a recovering economy, as well as confirmation of corporate support for the fundraiser.
Gates open for the race at 8 a.m. and post-time for the first race is 1 p.m. at Moorland Farm off Route 202 in Far Hills.
Advance ticket sales will continue through this Friday, the day prior to the race. On-site ticket and parking permits also will be sold on race day.
Peapack-Gladstone Bank is sponsor
Peapack-Gladstone Bank is a sponsor this year, although Open Road, headed by Rod Ryan, remains the lead sponsor of the event, Torsilieri said.
The Far Hills Race Meeting has brought in more than $18 million since the 1950s to benefit the programs and services of Somerset Medical Center in Somerville. The Steeplechase Cancer Center at Somerset Medical was named in honor of contributions received from the event.
Torsilieri said the growth of the Far Hills Race Meeting from a local, or even regional event, into a social occasion that draws attendees from multiple states, can be thanked for increasing funds for Somerset Medical.
But with the larger crowds have come "growing pains," Torsilieri said.
However, with the prospect of having problems with public and underage intoxication and other issues being cleaned up, Torsilieri said, "We have had a lot of people who said they are coming back."
"I think attendance is going to be strong," he predicted for Saturday.
Torsilieri said he sees the change in direction at the event as an opportunity for the race to become "bigger and better."
Already, he said, the president of the Australian Steeplechase organization is coming to this year's race to see how Far Hills does things. He added that members of the New York Racing Association, and horses from England and Ireland are due to arrive in Far Hills, too.
"We are not done evolving," he said of the future of the Far Hills Race Meeting.
Asked whether the race meeting association might follow through in future years on one earlier suggestion of selling alcohol on-site in a controlled manner, Torsilieri said, "I want to get through Saturday, Oct. 19."
New rules widely publicized
Torsilieri said that the new rules and regulations have been widely publicized, although in theory some racegoers with general admission ticket holders could show up with their usual supply of alcohol in tow, unaware of this year's changes.
Torsilieri said those people are welcome to get back on the train. However, he noted that New Jersey Transit also is enforcing its own stricter rules on trains this year, even before racegoers arrive in Far Hills.
The town of Far Hills and other locals have been very supportive of the steps taken by the Far Hills Race Association this year, Torsilieri said.
Gateway Group One — one of the largest providers in the region with 34 years of experience managing security for clients and public events including large public venues, bus and rail operations, and corporate offices and complexes —will work in cooperation with the New Jersey state police, according to an earlier release from the race organizers.
The historic Far Hills Race Meeting — called one of the country’s most prestigious steeplechase horse races by organizers — will feature top thoroughbred jump racing, private tailgating parties and culinary feasts set against the stunning backdrop of New Jersey’s fall foliage, according to information from the Far Hills Race Association.
Both a fall day outdoors for area revelers that has grown increasingly into a destination event for the tri-state area, the Far Hills Race Meeting is described by in a release on the release as "a social experience for families, race enthusiasts, and equestrians alike."
General admission tickets may be purchased in advance for $60 and parking tickets for $30 through area vendors. On event day, general admission and parking tickets may only be purchased at the gate. Event day general admission is $120, parking is $30.
Tickets are available online. There is a $20 shipping and handling charge per order.
There are numerous places in the Somerset Hills and nearby where pre-race tickets may be purchased. The full list of vendors selling advance tickets is available online.