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Monday, September 26, 2011

Racetrack Closures

In an article on the Blood Horse website, Jennifer-Worth Ice wrote a story about some of the thoroughbred tracks which have been closed and the loss of history that came with the demolition.  It got me to think about the standardbred tracks which have vanished during my days of being a fan of the sport, and it makes me think about the history which has been lost. 

In no particular order, the loss of Roosevelt Raceway, now a shopping mall.  With the exception of the archival project the Harness Racing Museum has undertaken, who will remember the days of the Roosevelt International and The Challenge Cup?  All those great foreign horses that graced the Westbury oval over the years; especially when no track has picked up the mantle to restore the great international  races of the past.

What about Garden State Park, the home of the famous March of Dimes Trot where some of Europe's best horses came to do battle in Cherry Hill, New Jersey?  Where Nihalator raced, where Sugarcane Hanover came out victorious in the forementioned March of Dime Trot.

The loss of Louisville Downs, home of the Kentucky Pacing Derby, a $200,000 race which drew so much attention that it was actually shown on PBS in the New York City area.  For fourteen years, the nation's best two year olds raced over the half mile oval to do battle, including a horse named Niatross; the long forgotten Witsend's Wizard (winner of the 1984 Kentucky Pacing Derby), and Albert Albert.  Okay, Louisville Downs may not have be torn down, but is used as an off-track wagering facility by Churchill Downs during Derby Week and up to recently was used as a training facility for thoroughbreds.

Brandywine Raceway, where the original Battle of The Brandywine was contested, won by horses long gone, Overcall, Romulous Hanover, Fulla Naploean, Columbia George, Albatross, Keystone Ore, No No Yankee, Sonsam, and Albatross and other great horses starting their racing career there as many of the best racing stables called Brandywine Raceway home. 

Liberty Bell Park, in Northeast Philadelphia, a standardbred track now a shopping center which at one time ran a thoroughbred race meet before Keystone Racetrack opened.  Drivers such as Ross Hayter, Eddie Davis, Eddie Cobb and others raced there.  Horses like Seven O Clock and Ronstadt doing battle in a PASS (Ronstadt finished second thastt day and showed up at Monticello Raceway the next week, giving me my greatest score wheeling her in everything).  The 5/8 harness track was built inside of the thoroughbred track sharing only a common homestretch. Hot Hitter with Herve Fillion gracing the track.  Pats Gypsy, another great one that raced there.  I remember when they closed the day Garden State Park opened, saying they couldn't compete (if they only could have waited it out).    

All tracks long gone, no monuments, all history consigned to the memory of those few who lived or witnessed great races, memories fading along with the memories of participants, often being lost as these witnesses to history die off.  Maybe these tracks mean nothing to you if you are from the Mid-west or the West coast; you have your own memories of tracks like Latonia Raceway, Washington Park, Hollywood Park, Quad City Downs and others.  History which would have shown how great this sport once was and as were the greats who practiced their profession over these ovals.  Perhaps even more important than those greats who practiced their trade there were those people who toiled away anonymously there; their contributions to the sport wiped out as the grandstands came tumbling down. 

It is not just the parimutuel tracks, but fair tracks as well.  A few years ago, I went to the Altamont Fairgrounds in New York where harness racing was contested for a concert and it was held inside the old harness track where racing was held a long time ago.  You could still see where the track once was and I wondered who raced over this long lost oval.   Perhaps some famous horse or horseman started out here?

As much as these tracks meant something to those who played or toiled there, society itself is poorer for not even realizing what was once there as they walk, driver cares or live on these hallowed grounds.  If you happen to know where some of  these tracks were, you can stand there and for a moment step back in time, sensing the history which once transpired there.  Hearing in your mind the track announcer calling the names of racing's greatest start, both equine and human.

A little bit of this sport dies and is lost each time a racetrack is closed.   No matter how little or how big a racetrack is, steps should be taken to keeping them going.  Faling that, the history of what transpired there should never be allowed to be forgotten.


Paul said...

You left out Good Time Park, the home of the Hambeltonian when it was run in Goshen, NY. WH Cane built and funded the oval and grandstand and of course it is now gone, as in most of these, gone for real estate developments.

Anonymous said...

Eddie Davis was only a star racing at those third rate tracks. Just the truth. He could never handle The Big Boys. Fat Eddie Cobb goes way back to the early 60's at Yonkers where they banned him for life for race fixing.
Ross Hayter was a class act and so sad he eventually died from cancer. And boy could he drive. And I mean drive without the "help" of others. Not trying to rain on your parade, but I go back, way back and every word I wrote is gospel.