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  The Pier Piper of Hampton !     

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Thoroughbred racing at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton begin in 1943. It marked the return of racing to Western Massachusetts, and always ran on Labor Day. The dates changed over the years some years it started on Labor Day others it ended on that day, but it always ran a Labor Day card. In 1972 it was estimated that 30,000 people attended the races that day. This was highly unlikely as all admissions to the fair were counted as bettors. The races were always packed on Labor Day, it was hard to move never mind make a bet, but as the years went on the crowds started to dwindle. On September 11, 2005, around five thirty in the afternoon a horse named Daves Baby was led to the winners circle to bring the curtain down on seventy years of racing on the Massachusetts Fair Circuit. Still Northampton will always have a place in my heart, it was my first.

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I was at the tender age of thirteen and it was labor day. I tagged along with some older fellows "at least old enough to drive" who were heading to the races. I had been forced to watch the Kentucky Derby on TV and thought "this is boring" so I really wasn't excited. When I got to the track one of the older guys said you needed a program and something called a "Telly", whatever that was? The "Telly" ended up being the Morning Telegraph, which is today's Racing Form. It was love at first sight, I never liked math in school, but all these numbers they were fascinating. I couldn't believe I could make easy money by just making sense of those numbers. Well it wasn't quite that simple, but I was hooked. Years later I noticed a new way to handicap at Northampton.

Most of my time at the fair was spent in the infield, you got there by going under the track in what I swear was just a giant storm drain. Anyways, it was less crowded, had mutual windows, bathrooms, and most important a beer stand. The tunnel was under the first turn and the mutuals  and buildings were near it around the finish line leaving most of the infield wide open. I started watching a man walk from around the mutual building out to around the far turn, he would stop there while a few horses went by and then go straight back to the mutual windows. After a while other people started to notice and he started to have people follow him to the window to see who he would bet. He was the Pied Piper of Northampton. Rumor has it that he was the father of one of the leading jockeys at the fair, and they had some secret hand signals denoting who should win that race. Whether you followed the Pied Piper or used conventional handicapping, one thing was sure, you were probably going home broke.

In 2012 the old barns were leveled leaving no doubt that racing will never return here. There are also a couple of new barns that appeared, a little fancier than the old shed row, they still have horse events at Northampton but these prance, not run. Finally as sad as it might have been, the most famous horse to race at Northampton, was a horse that never won a race, the famous Zippy Chippy. I chose to make a separate Zippy page and include it on the Northampton page, although most of his races were at Finger Lakes, his most notable period was at the Three County Fair. Link is in the track menu section.

On Labor Day of 2016, I once again made my way to the Three County Fair and was surrounded by many four legged friends. Unfortunately they were canine not equestrian, I was there to run my dog in an agility exhibition, which gave me plenty of time to reminisce. Wow! had it already been eleven years since I was last here.

I have to admit, the crowd was pretty good, with the usual traffic jam, that use to panic double betters. It still was a sad visit, three giant barns were sitting where the backstretch was, all the old stables were gone but a few things were still there. The old grandstand is still standing as well as the old judges tower, the tote board and infield betting area were gone, replaced by a pile of dirt and a couple of left over demolition derby cars. The tunnel between the grandstand area and infield was all fenced in, the track itself is still there with bits and pieces of the inner and outer rails still in place but the saddest thing was not on the track.

Tucked away in a little corner of an aging agricultural barn was the Racing Hall of Fame. It contained two sets of dusty old silks, a few winner circle photos and a couple of programs from the sixties, no bronze statue of Zippy Chippy, no bust of Ray Pasquarelli or Tommy Maeda, not much to show for sixty years of racing. On a happy note leaving the hall of fame I noticed the vendors, some with the original location I frequented in the past, so I stepped up ordered some fries sprinkled on some vinegar and salt, for a moment Northampton was back!