Atlantic City Race Course, 1946 to 200?

Apr 27th 2008 07:04 pm |

The Atlantic City Race Course attracted 25,000 fans when it opened on July 22, 1946. Conceived in 1943, smack in the middle of the Second World War, the track was funded by a group of local investors headed by Jack Kelly, Philadelphia business man and father of Grace Kelly. The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin wrote in May 1947 of Jack Kelly and his track, “you can see in his gait that he’s might pleased of his $4,000,000 establishment. He is running nose to nose with the gentlemen who turned Gulfstream into a paradise. Improving the breed, as they say, is doing a lot to improve the landscape.”

Atlantic City Race Course represented all that was new and modern in post-war America. The appeal of the “new” along with the growing popularity of racing made the track a popular destination, consistently drawing crowds in excess of 10,000 during it first years of operation.

What follows are some highlights from James Roach 1946 piece in the New York Times about opening day:

In thousands of autos and dozens of buses, by train and by plane the fans arrived. They came early, eager for a thorough inspection of the 657-acre plant and its up-to-the-minute features, and long before the first post time of 2:30 all the 16,000 seas were filled. Late comers had to settle for standing room out in the sun in the concrete lawn.”

Image: A standing room only crowd estimated at 17,000 watch as the horses enter the track at ACRC on August 23, 1946. (Courtesy of Urban Archives, Temple University)

The track, built in the middle of the New Jersey pines on a site that once was a golf course, was about 95 per cent complete for this inaugural program. Benches were borrowed from Delaware Park because all the seats weren’t in operation, the automatic sprinkler system wasn’t ready to do any sprinkling and the television tower wasn’t doing any televising, but all the essential machinery in a smooth-working race track was working — and apparently working well”

My comment: Can anyone imagine a race track being built over a golf course today? It was built over the Atlantic Pines golf course.

Jon Sloan, the architect who was a member of the New York Racing Commission from 1934 to 1942 designed the track – and he planned it with the comfort of the fans firmly in mind. He built the Hipodromo de las Americas in Mexico City and the Garden State track at Camden; he also built such notable New York City structures as the Graybar Building, the Chanin Building, the Pershing Square Building, 29 Broadway and 80 Broad Street.”

Image: Crowd watches the field pass the stands, September 4, 1947

Among the features of the seashore course, which is about 120 miles from New York and 45 from Philadelphia, are sun decks, dining terraces, cocktail lounges in both clubhouse and grandstand, a seafood bar, a sunken walking ring with stepped tiers around it and a parking lot with accommodation’s for 10,000 automobiles. Every seat is a good one, and the stress is on visibility.

John B. Kelly Sr. of Philadelphia, the former Olympic sculling champion, is the president of the association. He stepped to the microphone and welcomed fans prior to the first race.

All was sweetness and light out front, but there was some squawking in the stable area about inadequate facilities.”

Oh well, you can’t please all of the people all of the time. With the exception of the occupants of the “stable area”, the Atlantic City Race Course’s fan-focused facilities and its proximity to vacation destinations made it a popular place to spend an afternoon.

THEN AND NOW

1946

The following images of the ACRC were taken July 16, 1946 by the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, about a week before opening day (click to view full image):



2008
These photographs were taken on April 25, 2008, day 3 of the 6 day all turf meet. Some of these images above might not convey the current condition of the facility. It is certainly showing its age. My wife called it “Pimlico-like.”:






To see additional images:View a web album from April 25, 2008

THE FUTURE OF THE ATLANTIC CITY RACE COURSE

The signs of the eventual fate of the Atlantic City Race Course literally surround the facility. In every direction, development looms and the days of the historic oval seem numbered.



Delaware Park is my home track. Coming from a place where the live racing is secondary (at best) to the slots and simulcasting, makes me truly appreciate race meets where the live racing is the primary focus. Pure racing venues are becoming less typical in the era of racinos. It is highly unlikely that a horse racing only facility will be constructed in the foreseeable future (odds are against such an occurrence in my lifetime). ACRC is as pure a race venue as they come. To see it torn down would be a real loss to the local fans who really seemed to enjoy the races and to those who respect the history of thoroughbred racing.

Considering the appeal of boutique meets like Saratoga, Keeneland, and Del Mar, reviving ACRC for a short spring and/or fall meet would be a viable way to keep the track in operation. The success of the current 6 day meet with very little publicity is evidence that live racing can draw a crowd at ACRC. The venue is the key. When it goes, so goes a great opportunity for a boutique meet in the region. Let’s hope that it chugs along for another season. As long as it’s standing a chance remains that something constructive might be done to keep the wrecking ball away.

Sources

“Application is Filed for Construction of $2,000,000 Race Track in Jersey,” New York Times, November 23, 1923

“New Moon is First at Atlantic City,” New York Times, July 23, 1946

“Racing Opens at Atlantic City,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, May 26, 1947

Historic images courtesy of the Urban Archives at Temple University

Filed in Atlantic City Race Course,Kelly, Jack



14 Responses to “Atlantic City Race Course, 1946 to 200?”

  1. Eddie C says:

    It will be nice when some more horses ship north and the fields at Delaware Park are a little fuller. I was up there on Opening Day and played the races there from Pimlico this past Saturday.

    I’ve yet to ever get to Belmont or Saratoga – though I’m hoping to cross Monmouth off the never-been-to list during their upcoming meet.

    Keep on posting.

  2. Dell Yount says:

    GREAT ARTICLE & PHOTOGRAPHS… excellent work!
    I have posted a link to your website at
    UpInClass Racing Forum (USA) – http://www.upinclass.com

  3. Anonymous says:

    This website is great. i am a fellow race tracker, currently at indiana downs, a newer facility. i am an exercise rider, but i would love nothing more to see this track stay open. it opened at one of the toughest times, and now times are rougher now then they were then. i wish the atlantic city race course the best, and would to love to come there for the meet. who would not to see this history of track to live on. we all need history, istead of convience.

  4. john the track man from tinicum says:

    i would vacation at the turf & sand motel with my family in june july and august every year i miss the ac track

  5. Anonymous says:

    not to good with posting but my father owned and operated the turf & sand motel i would enjoy hearing more about it ken davis

  6. Dan says:

    Wonderful pictures and information. As a kid, I spent every day of every summer there. My step dad was the leading trainer off and on beginning in the 1980’s. When I was 16 my family relocated to the mid-west racing circuit. The staff, gamblers, and fellow horseman were in many ways like a family. To see these pictures bring back memories of the many summers I spent there. My family raced at all the tracks on the east coast. None of them had the charm, history, and class that ACRC had. I hope it sees the glory days again.
    Sincerely,
    Dan of Walter Frey Racing Stables.

  7. Jim Woods says:

    I raced at ACRC from 1975 to 1979 and to this day I think of the great times wonderful people and fantastic facility that I could only wish that newcomers to racing could experience today.I’ve raced at almost thirty diffent tracks from Gulfstream to Woodbine and Atlantic City still holds a special place in my heart for all the wonderful memories of fellow horseman fans and especially the terrific management at ACRC.
    Thanks to All
    Jimmy Woods

  8. logue says:

    I grew up on a farm down the road from the A.C.Racetrack, where my father raised thoroughbreds, which he personally trained to race. He then put them into the races at the racecourse. As kids we watched the races. Many important people attended. The Duke of Windsor and Wallow Simpson were regulars, as was Alfred Hitchcock. It was the American version of Lady’sDay at Astor. You are welcome to contact me with questions or interviews. My dad is also. Thank you.

  9. logue says:

    Mr. Dell if your farm is in Northfield near Birch GrovePark, I remember my Dad bringing us there to visit you. Jim Logue is my Dad. Contact us any time. We are distantly related to Jack Kelly on my mum’s side. Her aunt married Vincent Kelly of Philadelphia. He worked in television.

  10. logue says:

    Does anybody remember Jobey Gauthier? He and his family were more or less French Gypsies and they lived in trailers near the A.C. Racecourse. Jobey helped train and care for the horses. I went to school with his kids Peter and Susan. They were wonderful to be with. I miss them.

  11. logue says:

    I remember my dad talking about Secretariat. He had all and I mean all of the horse books and magazines ever printed on Secretariat. He studied them because he bred horses on the farm for racing. I remember the baby horses when they were born. And Doc Foley was everyones favorite horse doctor.

  12. logue says:

    P.s. our farm was called Hideaway Stables. It was next to the train tracks that brought lots of people to A.C. Racetrack from Phily and Atlantic City, and everywhere else.

  13. Linda says:

    This is one of the greatest racetracks ever built and it kills me to see the hard times it has falllen on. I got my first license there in 1985 and I spent all my summers there grooming and then later training horses there I make a point of running horses there every year because to me that track is my second home. Anyone who has ever raced horse there gets a funny look on there face and it is usually followed by a fond memory of being there and when they average approximate 100 horses a race for the small fair meet they run so this little track may run a small meet but has not been forgotten by the horsemen that love it there. If they ever opened up for stabling I would never leave what a fantastic place to train horses and develop young horses. ACRC we miss you!!!!

  14. Louis says:

    My Grandfather was the head chef at this track as well as others on the East Coast including Monmouth Park , Gulfstream and Hialeah just to name a few. Spent alot of time with him there during the Summer as a kid , looking from what is now the back side of the mall where J C Penney is I can still picture him pulling up to the back stairs to go to work.
    There was a film shot there with Sean Connnery and Tippi Hedren they featured the Old Flower Mural that graced the front of the track on The Black Horse Pike.
    I found this site by accident and glad to see that some of the old photos are archived. Unfortunately now it is crumbling into disrepair the stable area looks sad , knowing that great trainers and horses once were housed there.
    Thank you for saving this little bit of history.
    Louis.

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