Laurel Park Opens, 1912

Oct 19th 2011 10:00 pm |

The Laurel Park Crowd, 1931 (Baltimore Sun)

In 1911, one hundred years ago this month, Laurel Park opened for business. Laurel started during a track building boom in Maryland. With racing dark in New York because of a gambling ban, and racing legal in only a handful of states, Maryland opened Laurel, Havre de Grace, and Bowie race tracks in a short span of four years.

With Pimlico – the grand-daddy of all the Maryland tracks — already thriving, the state seemed poised to take over the role as the center of American racing, a title previously held by New York. While the shift to Maryland as a primary racing hub was thwarted by the re-opening of the New York tracks in 1913, the state had a long and prosperous stretch spanning much of the twentieth century.

The opening of Laurel marked the beginning of the golden years of Maryland racing and has been the site for a multitude of important racing moments. We have focused a great deal on the Washington D.C. International in past postings about Laurel, but this week, in celebration of its centennial, let’s go back to the beginning. What follows are a series of quotes from newspaper accounts about Laurel Park’s opening day one hundred years ago:

Current Sporting Gossip,The (New York) Sun, 1 October 1911:

Racing within reach of New Yorkers will begin at Laurel, Maryland tomorrow, when the new mile track built by H.D. Brown, the well known promoter, is thrown open to the public. The plant has involved an outlay of $250,000, and Brown has met with encouragement from the stewards of the Jockey Club together with the patronage of some of the best known horsemen in the country. The track can be reached by trolley from Washington in less than half an hour, while from Baltimore it is one hour’s journey by steam. Under the laws of Maryland open bookmaking is legal so that probably thirty pencillers will line up in the betting ring.

The H.D. Brown referenced above was better known as Curly Brown. He was an important but elusive player in racing during a period starting in the early 1900s into the 1930s. The California businessman (as he came to be described) promoted, managed, and owned race tracks in Louisiana, Florida, Chicago, and Cuba (to name a few) during his career. He was the original owner of Laurel Park but sold it just three years after it opened.

Advertisement in the Washington Herald from October 1, 1911

“Racing at Laurel starts tomorrow,” Washington Herald, 1 October 1911:

All day yesterday there was hurry and bustle around the new racing plant of the Maryland State Fair Association, between the arrival of horses from New York and Canada, and other racing centers and the visiting of lovers of the thoroughbred, who have read and heard so much of Laurel as a racing center…

…There had not been a case of sickness at the track and the stables are built on a high elevation which makes them dry and fit to stable in at all times, and under all weather conditions. This is one point on which Manager [H.D.] Brown is particularly strong, He believes in looking after the horsemen as well as the public, and in his way draws many more to race with him than by overlooking them.

“Laurel Track to Have Slow Going,” Washington Times, 2 October 1911:

The new racing venture at Laurel starts its thirty day meeting this afternoon with an excellent program of six races…

…Unfortunately, these events will have to be run off over a slow track rendered doubly slow by the rainfall of last night. This circumstance will, undoubtedly, cause many scratches, and will give the handicappers a puzzling task to locate the winners. Speculators, indeed, will be treading on dangerous ground all through the meeting, and at times discretion will be better part of valor…

…Carpenters and laborers were hustling every minute of the day getting the plant in shape for the opening and work will be kept up to the very moment when the bugle blows for the first race this afternoon.

Rain Makes Heavy Going at Laural,Washington Times, 3 October 1911:

It was a most parlous [precarious] day for a new enterprise to make its initial bow to the public, and conditions were about as bad as they could be.

Rain mud and confusion were everywhere, yet for all that a crowd of at least 3,000 people turned out. With fair weather and normal conditions the attendance would easily have been 5,000…

…The program which held forth a glorious promise on its face was shot to death by scratches. The track, new and not yet worked into shape, was rendered a quagmire by the rain, and owners scratched until the tuck [energy] was taken out of nearly every event. Notwithstanding this, there were some warm contents and close finishes, which gave the crowd a chance to work off some of its pent-up enthusiasm…

…Washington and Baltimore contributed in about equal proportions, trains being run from each city right up to the track of the grandstand. A big contigent from New York was also on hand. The old guard, the regulars who follow the game from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from Canada to the Gulf, were there, as they always will be, whenever the bell taps and the bugle blows.

Pimlico and Laurel ran concurrently in 1911 and the New York Sun wrote on the eve of Laurel’s first opening day: “…Maryland will be the centre of racing in this country for a month and will compel the sport in Canada to take a back seat.” However, it also stated: “It remains to be seen whether both of these Maryland tracks can survive competition, whether there will be enough patrons to cover running expenses and whether enough good horses can be secured to provide really high class racing.”

While the concerns of 100 years ago didn’t stop Laurel, it’s interesting that the same issues about its survival have come back albeit in a different form. Laurel no longer worries about competition from within but competition from neighboring states that is further amplified by the general decline of the sport in recent years. It seems a long shot that racing will survive another 100 years at Laurel, one of the last two remaining racing venues in the once proud racing state of Maryland.


Current Sporting Gossip,” The (New York) Sun, 1 October 1911

“Racing at Laurel starts tomorrow,” Washington Herald, 1 October 1911

“Laurel Track to Have Slow Going,” Washington Times, 2 October 1911

Rain Makes Heavy Going at Laural,” Washington Times, 3 October 1911

Check out some great Laurel photos and historical highlights from a site called Press Box

Next week we will have our first article authored by T.J. Connick.  You know T.J. from the detailed contributions he has made to this site (and others) in the comments section.  T.J. has written an outstanding piece about a long forgotten horse named Jack Atkin that I will be posting next week

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Filed in Laurel Park,Race Tracks, United States,thoroughbred racing history

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