09/10/2002 11:00PM

No windows but plenty of action


ELMONT, N.Y. - Can you name this race course?

Located some 50 miles west of New York, it attracted a record crowd of more than 45,000 last year for its annual one-day race meeting, and there are expectations for an even bigger turnout this year. General admission is $40 if you buy your ticket before race day. On race day it is $80. Reserved parking stickers can cost $500, and the choice corporate tents go for $25,000. The purse distribution on race day - this year it is Oct. 19 - for the six-race card totals $500,000. And, oh yes, there is no wagering, at least officially, though if one expresses admiration for a particular horse he can frequently find someone to fade him.

The site of America's premier hunt meeting is Far Hills, N.J., which will host the $250,000 Breeders' Cup Steeplechase on the occasion of its 82nd meeting next month, one week before the other Breeders' Cup events at Arlington Park in Chicago.

Competition looks strong for the 2 3/8-mile Breeders' Cup Steeplechase, which will be televised nationally by ESPN on a delayed tape basis. The leading prospects include Quel Senor, who won the race last season, the New Zealand import Zabenz, who impressed at Saratoga a few weeks ago winning the New York Turf Writers Chase, and Its a Giggle, who won the Royal Steeplechase at Keeneland and the A.P. Smithwick at Saratoga.

But the biggest star of the day will be the course itself, a natural bowl set against the spectacular beauty of fall foliage. This was fox-hunting country in the days following the end of World War I when the Far Hills hunt meeting was first organized. It was a success from the outset, but it became even more popular some 30 years ago when it made a generous donation to the Somerset Medical Center. In the interim, the Fair Hills meet has raised more than $15 million for Somerset.

The co-chairmen of the Far Hills meeting are John von Stade and Guy Torsilieri, who live in the Far Hills area. Von Stade, one of racing's best-known executives, is president of the National Museum of Racing. Torsilieri's family operates a large landscaping and nursery company that grows, selects, and installs the celebrated Christmas tree at New York's Rockefeller Center.

The Far Hills course property, previously owned by AT&T, was purchased by the Far Hills organization three years ago when a program of comprehensive improvement was begun.

But the Far Hills management appreciates the rustic charm that has been a major factor in the remarkable success story of the course and has been careful not to overbuild.

There are no plans, for example, for concession stands to feed the huge crowd. Gates open on race day at 8 a.m. and a large percentage of attendees move to their parking locations and set up elaborate tailgate dinners in advance of the 1 p.m. post. Those enjoying the enjoying the comforts of a corporate tent usually can count on a catered meal.