Mar 22nd 2009 06:48 pm |
The collapse of Magna and the looming depression have inspired talk about what it will mean for racing. Many lament the inevitable “death” of racing but here at Colin’s Ghost we like to take the long view.
If we look back and consider how much the sport has grown in the last 100 years, the rumors of its pending death are false. Even if the future brings a significant retraction in the number of tracks, racing will still be better off then it was 100 years ago when the sport was nearly legislated out of existence.
Image: Ad for Sportsman’s Park (Cicero, Illinois), one of over 100 thoroughbred racing venues established in the last century (American Racing Manual)
Consider this: In 1909, gambling on racing was illegal in most states. Tracks in New York – the very place that modernized and popularized the sport – were less than a year away from shutting their doors. If racing was going to die, it would have happened then.
When New York tracks re-opened in 1913, after being closed by anti-gambling legislation in 1910, the long term success of racing remained a question. In 1941, The Bloodhorse wrote the following about the state of American thoroughbred racing in 1916:
“In the United States there were exactly 15 major race tracks, and nearly all of them were centered in Kentucky, Maryland, and New York. In Louisville were Churchill Downs and Douglas Park. Across the Ohio from Cincinnati was Latonia. In Lexington was the ancient Kentucky Association course. Maryland offered racing at Pimlico, Havre de Grace, Bowie, and Laurel. In New York there were Saratoga, Belmont, Aqueduct, Jamaica, and Empire City.
“The Fair Grounds kept the sport alive during the winter season in New Orleans. Hawthorne was operating in Chicago, having been revived that very year by the Illinois Jockey Club for the first time since racing was suspended in 1904.
“Except for a few small scattered courses, these were all the tracks there were.”
Since 1909, according to an unscientific calculation (see below), at least 115 new tracks have been built or reestablished. Approximately 70 still host live thoroughbred racing. Nine tracks still in operation were established before 1909. (The number of the early tracks still standing is amazing considering baseball’s propensity for building “old-time” reconstructions and tearing down places like Yankee Stadium and Comiskey Park.)
We have built, on average, at least one thoroughbred track per year in the last one-hundred years. Compared to the fifteen or so racing venues a century ago, we are better off then we were in 1909 even if the current downturn results in the closure of over half the current tracks.
People raced horses since their domestication thousands of years ago. Colonists were racing here generations before the American Revolution. As gloomy as the outlook for racing might be in 2009 – we are not the generation that will witness its end. While it might be beneficial in some circles to preface arguments with the tired lament that “racing is a dying sport” – in taking the long view – I am happy to report that racing will survive long after we are gone.
Chronology of Thoroughbred Racing Venues 1909 to 2009
The spreadsheet below includes a list of tracks built for thoroughbred racing from 1909 to the present and the ten built before 1909 still in operation. The tracks are listed in chronological order based on the inaugural meet date. It was compiled using American Racing Manuals from 1947, 1957, 1968, 1981, and 2008. This list is not comprehensive and probably has a fair share of errors. I will gladly update it as needed so please send me an email or leave a comment if you have corrections, omissions, or contributions. (See below spreadsheet for more on the methodology)
NOTE (3/23): The opening date for some tracks is debatable. For example, Monmouth and some of the California fair tracks hosted racing in the 19th century but were not re-etablished as racing venues until the legalization of pari-mutal racing. In these cases, I have listed them with their “modern” opening dates. Also, some tracks like Las Vegas Downs and East Moline Downs were short lived as thoroughbred racing venues so I did not include them here. A huge thanks to all who have commented — please keep them coming!
Caveat: While I disagree with the notion that racing is dying, it has plenty of room for improvement as pointed out in some recent commentary from two of my favorite bloggers Green But Game and Equispace.
THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!