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.”
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.
crowded parking lot advertised to hold 10,000 cars.
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!