Sep 14th 2011 10:45 pm |
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):
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.
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
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, 1905 — Available 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!