Atlantic City Race Course, 1946 / 2009

Apr 27th 2009 11:13 pm |

All eyes turn to Louisville and Churchill Downs this week as racing gets set for what looks to be a great Kentucky Derby this year. In Mays Landing, New Jersey, the once grand Atlantic City Race Course will wrap up its brief meet the day before the Run for the Roses.

When the track opened in 1946, it stood surrounded by trees and farmland, today the track stands surrounded by strip malls, box stores, and a housing development. Its days appear to be numbered.

I spent the afternoon at Atlantic City on Friday. I started my day with a visit to the Atlantic City Public Library to take a look at old editions of the Atlantic City Press.

On Monday July 22, 1946, the inaugural day of racing, the local paper dedicated twenty three pages of coverage to the new facility. The paper profiled everyone from Jack Kelly – the most familiar of the track’s founders – to the chief starter and track treasurer. The Press gave racing fans detailed explanations about how to wager and the mechanics of the pari-mutual systems, directions for getting to the track, bus and plane schedules, and everything anyone would need for attending the big day.

The Atlantic City Race Course was one of the places that set the stage for racing’s golden era. Walking around the run-down facility in 2009, one can sense what it used to be. The ebullient description below – from Atlantic City Press writer Whitey Gruhler – provides the modern reader with a glimpse of the excitement surrounding the track’s opening and why it holds a significant place in the history of thoroughbred racing:

Horse racing, which has sprouted from the sport of kings into the king of sports, gets under way in Atlantic City this afternoon when the Atlantic City Racing Association begins the first portion of a 42-day meet at its $3,500,000 ultramodern track, located 14 miles distant, just off the Black Horse Pike.

Begun soon after the end of war, the construction is a stately addition to the nation’s major racing wheel. Nestling deep in the woods, on the tract once known as the Atlantic Pines Golf Course, the magnificent edifice towers majestically above the sweet-scented pines like a glistening jewel in the morning sun – the last word in architectural splendor.

Only a few finishing touches, the placing of a gadget here and there, remain for the army of workmen, who won their race against time by meeting the opening deadline.

The entire plant sprawls over 657 acres and there is ample adjacent land should future expansion be necessary

Keynotes of the enterprise are safety for man and beast and the ultimate comfort and progress. Never in the history of the sport has so much thought and consideration been given the grandstand patrons who have been provided with sun decks, fine dining terraces, beautiful lounges, the best of visibility, and many other conveniences heretofore limited to patrons of the clubhouse.

A huge grandstand-clubhouse of concrete and steel accommodates 12,500 persons. It has a terrace for 5000 standees, and well graded terraces in front of the grandstand provide ample room for 35,000 more.”

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Five thousand fans attended the races this past Friday afternoon. Drawing a crowd of that size, with minimal publicity to a less then ideal facility, shows that an interest exists for live racing in the area. As I said last year, with a little more effort and a bit of renovation, Atlantic City Race Course could become a viable racing venue again.

Let’s hope they are still running in Atlantic City in 2010.

An advertisement for the track from 1962 shows the
crowded parking lot advertised to hold 10,000 cars.

That same lot as seen on April 24, 2009.

Every seat and every inch of the apron filled
with race fans. From a 1956 advertisement.

The sloped track apron that provided a great view for the tens of
thousands of fans who used to pack the track. April 24, 2009

SOURCES, NOTES, AND OBSERVATIONS

“New $3,500,000 Race Course One of the Best in the U.S.”, Atlantic City Press, July 22, 1946

Count down to less then one week to the Derby. It looks like a great field. I am leaning towards Firesian Fire and Pioneer of the Nile.

I will be posting a few times this week with Derby related “selections.”

Looking forward to my first trip of the season to Delaware Park on Derby Day. Missed opening day but was impressed by the card put together by Pat Pope, the new racing secretary. Delaware Park has become notorious for short fields over the last few years. Hoping to see that change with Mr. Pope now in charge of the condition book. Read more about his background here

THANKS FOR READING AND GOOD LUCK!

Filed in Atlantic City Race Course,thoroughbred racing history



14 Responses to “Atlantic City Race Course, 1946 / 2009”

  1. Teresa says:

    I went to the races at Atlantic City for the first time last year, and loved it. Couldn’t get down there this year, unfortunately, so thanks for this little taste of it.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If you search..universal newsreels,release 74 september 15, 1958… the last minute is the United Nations Handicap with Clem putting it to Round Table for the second time in two weeks(first was on Labor Day at Arlington in the Washington Park Hcp). Clem went on to make 3 for 3 in September at Belmont Park two weeks later in the Woodward. Can’t find a video of that one.
    RG

  3. Anonymous says:

    I, too, was there last friday. Loved it. Track #17 on the “Big list of tracks to visit” It’s an old-school jem. Let’s keep it going!

  4. Anonymous says:

    Am a big racing fan and sometimes owner, but never got to AC for the races. Did attend a Santana/CSN&Y concert there in 1974 though, so I have been on the premises. We need to keep this and all racing alive, including keeping HP from the hands of the developers.

    Mike B.

  5. Stan S. says:

    Thanks for the peep into the past! I spent many a sunny Saturday afternnoon watching top-shelf racing while the girls went to the beach.Attended the 1st night card in New Jersey history there along with about 20,000 others. Great memories here…wish they could find a way to keep it going !

  6. Hoffmannamps says:

    Thanks for the excellent site. Need to save Atlantic City! We don’t need anymore strip malls.

  7. john says:

    SPENT MANY A SUMMER NIGHT THERE. MISS IT, I TOOK VACATIONS AROUND THE TRACKS MEET, I WILL GO 4/23 HOPING FOR GOOD WEATHER AND A GREAT CARD.HOPE THAT THIS BEAUTIFUL TRACK HAS A RESURRGANCE IT SURE WAS A GOOD PLACE TO BE IN THE SUMMER

  8. john says:

    going there on a saturday night in the 70s 80s and 90s was a treat. THE FOG AROUND 11 AND MIDNIGHT WAS A COOL THING TO SEE , YOU COULD PARK WAY IN THE BACK AND HAVE A FEW BIG HITS AND WALK TO YOUR CAR WITH NO FEAR OF ROBBERY. THAT IN IT SELF WAS COMFIRTING, HOPING THEY RETHINK THERE POSITION IN 2011 FOR A REAL MEET, AND MAKE IT A VIABLE ENITY IN THE SUMMER RACING MARKET.

  9. Scott J says:

    Attended the closing day, Saturday, April 24th, 2010 card and drove from Long Island to see it – passed right by Aqueduct, the Meadowlands, and Freehold to experience this little bit of history. With 8,500 fans, the buzz around the aging plant made it feel like Sundays at Belmont some thirty years ago. The turf course was firm and the footing outstanding for the speed favoring mile grass oval. The sixth race of seven saw a new track record set for the five furlongs (55.1) in the closing day stake race.

    Yes, Atlantic City could be restored to something truly special as a spring/summer boutique meeting in New Jersey. The fact that a crowd double and triple the attendance at Aqueduct or the Meadowlands could be on hand tells you that something special is still here at the Atlantic City Race Course. Something very special indeed in a place that has survived all threats and all modern day intrusions.

    Now, if someone can just explain the uphill climb from inside the first floor of the grandstand to the track’s apron, that would be useful!

  10. Stan C. says:

    Stan, what year was that 1st night racing date? I too attended with a bunch of friends, remember what a great time we had many summer days!

  11. In the early 1960’s my grandfather, Jack Boylan, was in charge of the betting booths and the advertised parking lot that fit 10,000 cars. My cousins would come home from college and my uncles would come to Ocean City and stay and my grandfather hired them to park those 10,000 cars all summer long. It was a wonderful way to spend the summer. I was only 10 but remember the beautiful flowers that made a horseshoe at the entrance and spelled out the name of the track. I was so impressed. I even was allowed to eat one morning in the “mess hall” with the jokey’s. The place was alive with fun and excitement. After trips to the track, we always stopped into a roadhouse named Schruells. The food was fabulous!! What fun!!!

  12. Tim M says:

    Dr. Roberts,

    Jack Boylan ran Parking at AC in the early 60’s, but Riggs Mahony was in charge of the mutuels.

  13. Barbara says:

    It’s great to reminisce. I grew up in McKee city just a couple miles from the track. We were trying to remember what the name of the bar was after the “Pony Club”. It was across the pike from where the Hamilton Mall is now. Does any one remember?

  14. Scott Bibeault says:

    My father Al had a box at the track for years. I grew up in the place and have many fond memories of him and all the people I met there.