Belmont Park Official Inaugural Program, 1905

Sep 14th 2011 10:45 pm |

Official Inaugural Program for Belmont Park, 1905

The opening of Belmont Park in the Fall is an important marker for racing fans. The Belmont Fall meet marks the beginning of the end of the racing season. It’s a meet where horses make their final push for end of the year honors. Kelso, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Citation, Whirlaway, and Man O’ War (to name a few) all won memorable races in the chill of the Belmont Fall to solidify there place among racing’s all-time greats.

Of the many tracks that I have written about in this space, Belmont Park stands as one of the most featured. In fact, the second post ever at Colin’s Ghost was about opening day at Belmont Park. So I was excited to find that the Official souvenir and stake program of the inaugural meeting of the Westchester Racing Association published back in 1905 had been digitized and is online at the Internet Archive.

I spent some time over the weekend studying the content of what was the first-ever publication describing the new track. In it you will find a detailed description of the original grounds as well as images of the site and advertisements that provide insight into the type of patrons who would have thumbed through the souvenir program many years ago.

Here is a sampling of quotes, images, and a few of my favorite ads (view the program in its entirety):

The original Belmont Park grandstand, 1905

It is no stretch of imagination to say that Belmont Park, the future “Home of the Thoroughbred,” for which The Westchester Racing Association stands sponsor, is the most magnificent race-course in the world.

Nature, money and brains have been united into a combination which has given to the American public an ideal resort for the Sport of Kings.’

The vastness of the grounds, on which are erected the necessary impressive buildings, can be better appreciated when it is stated that it is a tract of land covering a space of over six hundred acres. This in itself gives a faint idea of the immensity of the undertaking which has transformed a vast area, studded with trees and of sandy loam, into a magnificent roomy pleasure park, the like of which no other country can boast.

A page of advertising from the program that included ads for automobiles, writing pens, a Manhattan hotel, and an undertaker

The entrance to the grounds proper is lined by numerous rhododendrons, and is thickly studded, on each side, with rows of stately pine and chestnut trees, which, in a measure, prepare the visitor for the grandeur of what is to come…

…All events at this race-course will be run the reverse way to that with which the public is familiar, i. e.: all turns will be made to the right, in lieu of to the left. This wise move was adopted so as to permit a more advantageous location of the various buildings, and also to fulfill the requirements as to the direction of the sun’s rays…

I have read many times over the years that the decision to run clockwise in the early years of Belmont Park was to mimic the direction of the English turf. However, according to this primary source, the reasons were less of an aesthetic choice and had more practical reasons.

…Here, then, is a pleasure Park of unsurpassed beauty within a few minutes’ ride of the Metropolis and Brooklyn, where the conveniences and comforts of the public have been a paramount study to the minutest detail, where a day’s outing is to be obtained ‘midst the wafting of invigorating pine breezes and health-laden air, where the great classic turf events of The Westchester Racing Association will be contested for all time to come by the noblest of all brute creation, ‘the thoroughbred,’ and where the American racehorse will find a perfect and perpetual home.

For over a century, Belmont has remained a perfect and perpetual home for man and beast alike. Most of the remaining structures from the original Belmont Park were razed during a major renovation in the 1960s. While the patrons who attended the races in the early years would hardly recognize the facility today, they would find recognition in looking out over the vast 1 ½ mile oval. The buildings may have been modernized but the field of competition has changed little over the last 106 years.

Sources, News, and Notes

Advertisement for the Coney Island Jockey Club, operators of Sheepshead Bay Race Track in Brooklyn, New York

Official souvenir and stake program of the inaugural meeting of the Westchester Racing Association : under the auspices of the Jockey Club and the National Steeplechase and Hunt Association, at Belmont Park, beginning Thursday, May 4th, 1905Available in its entirety at the Internet Archive

The program also included advertisements for the other New York jockey clubs operating tracks in the area at that time. The one on the right is the Coney Island ad.

The homestretch to the racing season has arrived! I will be at Belmont Park on October 1st for Jockey Club Gold Cup day. It’s shaping up to be an epic day of racing.

Thank for reading and good luck!

Filed in Belmont Park,Belmont Park inaugural meeting,thoroughbred racing history

3 Responses to “Belmont Park Official Inaugural Program, 1905”

  1. T.J. Connick says:

    I remember well watching Seattle Slew and Affirmed winning at Belmont’s Fall meeting, but neither I nor anyone else ever saw Damascus win at Belmont.

    Not trying to pick holes in your strong post, but nearly all of Damascus’s career took place during Belmont’s reconstruction. He broke his maiden on Columbus Day, ’66; won the Belmont, Woodward, and Jockey Club Gold Cup in ’67; got his picture taken after the Brooklyn Handicap in ’68 — but every race was at the Big A, not Belmont.

    He closed his career with his only Belmont appearances. Mr. Right nosed him out in the Woodward on Sep 28, 1968. Four weeks later, Damascus was last of 6 in the Gold Cup, incurring the injury that brought his racing days to an end. Like fellow immortals Buckpasser and Dr. Fager — neither of whom ever started at Belmont — Damascus is forever linked with Aqueduct.

    Citation was a perfect 6 of 6 at Belmont: Futurity Trial; Futurity; Belmont Stakes; Sysonby Mile; Jockey Club Gold Cup; Empire City Gold Cup — the last four covered neatly in your examination of his 16-race winning streak.

    The 1905 Belmont track configuration and “right-handed” direction is quite interesting, particularly for a place with no real space constraint, and that had been flattened like a rice paddy before courses were built.

    Plenty of English racecourses, including the Epsom course that hosts the Derby, are left-handed courses. Most contemporary newspaper accounts seemed to label Belmont’s right-handed course an “English” course, however.

    The big boys liked to sit in the best seats; they planted their clubhouse to the left of the grand stand (as is the case at Keeneland); they wanted a Futurity Course along the lines of the popular modification to Sheepshead Bay; and above all, they wanted to sit on the finish line. That business about the sun sounds like a pretty lame reason, and it is absent from any press reports of the time. Is it possible that the Jockey Club decision-makers wanted to put the clubhouse, finish line, and paddock as close to the railroad siding as they could? If so, they had to have a right-turning course.

    The “S-shaped” course over which the Belmont Stakes was run for many years can be traced on the course diagram. The 1904 and 1905 stakes were contested at 10 furlongs, starting on the far side of the training track, turning left, rounding to the straight on the near side of the training track, then turning gently into the stretch of the main course. In 1906 another furlong was added by building a short chute to cross the Futurity course before joining the far side of the training track.

    Why was the Belmont Stakes not run as a one-turn, 10-furlong event? Why not as a two-turn event at 12 furlongs to a mid-stretch finish line? There must have been some conviction among powerful Jockey Club members that three-year-olds could not contest the Belmont Stakes on the mighty new oval.

    You will want to view the wonderful photos of the original 1905 Belmont Park at the Museum of the City of New York website. Their search mechanism is a bit clunky, and many photographs are improperly labeled, but their collection is terrific.

    Thanks for another fresh and informative post, and for letting us participate.

  2. Kevin says:

    Bad history by me with Damascus racing at Belmont, T.J. Thanks for the correction and, as always, many thanks for your contribution.

  3. Sysonby says:

    I love course diagrams! It’s notable too that Belmont opened with a turf course apart from the steeplechase course. When Saratoga re-opened only a couple of years prior (after Whitney and partners took over) it had a turf course. In fact the Alabama was run on turf once in the early 1900’s (1903 maybe?)

    I have also seen photos of Sheephead Bay that indicate that it too had a grass course inside the main track.

    It’s cool that the Belmont was run both left and right handed. Of course it had been run at Jerome Park and that course was shaped like a bow-tie with one flat side. Horses then must have been pretty nimble with the lead changes.

    I do wonder why grass racing didn’t catch on in the US until the 50’s and was really a “niche” until the late 70’s/early 80’s especially since several major venues has grass courses. Did they use grass for training maybe?