Winter racing ‘ain’t what it used to be,’ 1930

Jan 6th 2011 07:52 pm |

If there is a theme at Colin’s Ghost, it is this: No matter what the era, the constant perception is that racing was always better in the past. Considering this, one might say its a ‘miracle’ we have made it this far. Racing soldiers on in spite of the ever-present claims of its pending death. If racing is dying, it has been a slow death and many of those who predicted the death of racing through the years are now long dead themselves.

We have again come full circle here at Colin’s Ghost and are back again with our favorite theme.

This week’s selection is from a piece written at the beginning of a decade (1930s) that would see twenty-one states legalize racing. The piece was published in 1930 when gambling on racing was illegal in California. In Florida, gambling was conducted via a rather circuitous route to sidestep laws against bookmaking (more on that next week).

So, in 1930, the two present day locations associated with high class winter racing, didn’t conduct race meets at all or did so on a loose legal footing. So what did winter racing look like during an era of limited racing in warm weather states? The National Turf and Sport Digest saw it like this 70 years ago:

A subject of constant debate is whether the horses of the present era are superior to those of preceding generations. It is difficult to arrive at any conclusion. One thing I think will be universally admitted by those familiar with racing over a period of thirty years is that the winter racing or rather the horses racing at winter tracks these days are vastly inferior to those that campaigned in California and Louisiana twenty and thirty years ago.

“At present there are two tracks catering to the horsemen in Louisiana, Jefferson Park and Fair Grounds. There are two in Florida, Miami and Pompano, The course known as Kenney Park shut its gates rather precipitately, and it is questionable if the track at Tampa will open. Havana is also operating, but the Havana track for years has been more or less of a legalized crap game, and it is hardly more worthy of notice now than it was years ago when about half a dozen bookmakers and two or three machines handled the play.

Tijuana was dismantled after last year’s meeting and a new and costly track was constructed at Agua Caliente. The track opened the Saturday following Christmas.

“Agua Caliente and Miami are first-class race courses in every particular. They are conducted by sportsmen and every effort is being made to raise winter racing to a place on a level with the best summer tracks…

Agua Caliente Racetrack in Tijuana, Mexico (

“…From a physical standpoint there is no comparison between Aqua Caliente and Miami on one hand and the old-time tracks in Louisiana and California on the other. Nevertheless, despite the greater attention paid to the comfort of man and beast, and the far greater monetary returns to the winners, the meeting in Florida and Lower California [actually Mexico] this year will not begin to attract as high-class horses as ran at New Orleans and California in years gone by. In short, the organizers of the Miami and Agua Caliente courses have expended hundreds of thousands of dollars for nickel horses — in other words, they have provided a platinum setting for paste jewels.

This is no fault of the promoters of the present-day winter tracks; it is a fact they are confronted with, not a theory. It is simply due to the fact there are not enough high-class horses to go round for summer meetings, and it cannot be expected the best horses will be campaigned summer and winter.

“Twenty to thirty years ago there were a number of professional horsemen who raced summer and winter. They were first-class conditioners of horses, able to hold their own on metropolitan tracks, men of the calibre of the late Sam Hildreth, Green B. Morris, Walter Jennings, Edward Corrigan, ‘Lucky’ Baldwin, Charlie Ellison, Fred Cook, Pat Dunne, and Captain Jim Williams.

“Owners of this calibre are no longer connected with the turf. In the main the owners of the best horses are wealthy men, and they do not, as a rule, campaign their stables in the winter time.”

Today, the Hildreth’s and Baldwin’s of our era wouldn’t dream of skipping the winter racing at Gulfstream and Santa Anita. Certainly, things looked dark in 1930 but no one would have predicted back then that racing would see widespread acceptance in the United States in such a short period of time. History teaches us many things, one that we sometimes forget, is that its OK to be optimistic.


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The quote above came from article in the National Turf and Sport Digest from February 1930.

Back next week with an article about Florida racing before the legalization of parimutuel racing.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in winter racing

One Response to “Winter racing ‘ain’t what it used to be,’ 1930”

  1. Rick Davies says:

    I wonder what the oldtimers would think of synthetic tracks?