General admission ticket holders at future Far Hills Race Meetings no longer will be permitted to bring alcohol in through the gates to Moorland Farm, where the races are held each October, in a major change for the fundraising social event that dates back to the early 20th century.
Guy Torsilieri, co-chairman for the steeplechase horse races, informally known as "The Hunt," said that alcohol still will be permitted at corporate tents, catered affairs and for ticket holders who rent spots to host tailgate parties.
But the 46 percent of other racegoers, who park outside the gates, take the train or are dropped off to enter the property through one of three general admission gates, will be subject to pat-downs and wand searches for alcohol, as they would be at other large sporting events, Torsilieri said.
The change in rules at the race is a reaction to complaints about excessive and underage drinking at the event. The annual event is a fundraiser for the Somerset Medical Center that usually attracts about 40,000 attendees from nearby and from other states, including on trains from New York City.
"You can no longer fill up your little red wagon and bring in cases of vodka and beer," Torsilieri said, referring to what have been large quantities of alcohol brought in by some racegoers.
At this point, the plan is to allow general admission ticket holders to consume alcohol only if they are invited to a tailgate or tented catered party on the other side of the race area, Torsilieri said.
In response to a question, Torsilieri said that general admission ticketholders would not be allowed to bring alcohol back from that party.
"You have to be an invited guest. You would walk in and out," he said. "A bartender would pour you a drink in a glass."
The races, a Somerset Hills tradition, has raised millions for the Somerset Medical Center in Somerville over previous decades. The Steeplechase Cancer even is named in honor of the horse racing event.
Torsilieri said that the Somerset Medical Center is "absolutely" in total agreement on the change in rules. He said he is "in step" with Paul Stahlin, chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Somerset Medical Center, on the new revisions.
Rules could be revised again before next October
Torsilieri unveiled the change in procedure before the Far Hills Council on Monday night, but he said he has been discussing changes with officials and the race committee for several months.
"This still is a work in progress," he said of the revision of rules for The Hunt.
One possibility that has been discussed is having alcohol sold on the property on race day, under controlled circumstances.
"We are still trying to figure out what we can and can't do," Torsilieri said.
He said the organizers still want the Far Hills Race Meeting to be a "fabulous" event for thousands. To provide some perspective, he said that about two dozen arrests were made among last year's crowd. Violations were issued for such alleged offenses as drug use, underage drinking and urinating in public.
But the days of an unlimited supply of booze coming in with crowds heading to an open field are definitely over, Torsilieri said.
Bernardsville police chief said he appreciates effort to curb alcohol consumption at race
Bernardsville Police Chief Kevin Valentine, who in previous years has said that drunken racegoers either park, party, or get on or off the train in Bernardsville, said on Tuesday, "Any effort to reduce the amount of alcohol consumption at the race will likely alleviate some of the alcohol-related public safety concerns that are presented on the day of the races."
"I personally appreciate the effort the Race committee is making to deal with these concerns," Valentine said.