Turf ParadiseProgram 1970
Turf ParadiseHarness Racing

Seminole Downs

I never made it to Seminole Downs but I did get my hands on a thoroughbred and harness program from there. Until I started to dig into it's history, I didn't realize how lucky I was to have them. The track itself lasted about ninety years, but probably  ran less than two hundred days of pari-mutual thoroughbred racing, harness racing did a little better lasting seven years. It did do better as a dog track, but the results ended up the same.

Tinker to Evers to Chance

in 1910 a poem was penned as part of baseball lore, "Baseball's Sad Lexicon". The poem only had eight lines, but three of them referenced "Tinkers to Evers to Chance" a trio of Chicago Cubs known for their ability to turn double plays. Any baseball buff worth their salt will surely recognize that line from the poem, but what the heck does it have to do with Seminole Downs?

Well turns out the founding father of Seminole Downs was none other than Joe Tinker, the shortstop of the famous trio. Seems after baseball he was heavily invested in Mid Florida real estate and built the track in 1920. I guess it's not a good sign when a racetrack gets a name change every few years and up till 1966 it had it's share.

Starting out in 1920, as Seminole Downs, the facility became a winter training facility for quarter horses. In 1926 it became the Seminole Jockey Club, featuring thoroughbreds with a crude pari mutual system with a guy with a blackboard in the infield frantically trying to keep up with the odds. That couldn't of worked out to well cause I don't think made a season but then again nothing usually did. In 1929, the track is now called Seminole Trotting Park and standardbreds show up for the first time, they will be the most dominant breed to use the facility over the years. In 1929, the stock market crashed and Seminole Trotting Park went with it. That started it in a new direction for a bit.    

Turf ParadiseSeminole Park Raceway 1955

In 1930, Seminole whatever, was turned into a Fernery, who knows what that was, it was also for parachute jumping, but it was soon to find it's niche as a winter training haven for standardbreds. From 1930 the track was used as a winter training facility for Ben White Raceway near Orlando. Ben White was a well known figure in harness racing and that reputation brought many famous horses to train in Florida, during the winter. I'm not sure whether any pari mutual racing was done at Ben White, but when the State of New York allowed New York tracks to extended their racing season, it put a damper on the mid Florida harness business. Seminole whatever would sit idle for a while.  

Around 1952, the track came back to life and for the first time Seminole was not part of the name. Now known as Azalea Driving Park, it lasted one year as a winter training facility. After that it hosted some car racing until around 1955, when a real push was made to host pari mutual wagering.

Turf ParadiseCouldn't bet but you could eat

With new owners and a new name Seminole Park Raceway, the old track got a makeover as the refurbished track held an open house on December 18, 1955. One horseman was so taken he referred to it as the "country club of trotting parks" but it was an uphill battle from there. It wasn't until January 1st 1962 when a real races were run, five non betting quarter horse races were held to qualify for a futurity at Tropical Park. Obviously the new paint job didn't work out to well, by the end of 1962 the old structures were leveled and a new grandstand was being erected. Finally, on February 1st 1963 it happened a nine race mixed quarter horse, harness horse pari mutual betting event. It seems Seminole Park Raceway was one of the only places on the east coast where quarter horses could run at the time. What could be better, on the second Saturday they ran, they got Jayne Mansfield to present the feature race award. Whoops! on February 28 the track announces it will close March 9, citing lack of horses due to early racing up north. Racing in 1964 was pushed from January 21 to end of February, but the season never started. It's the end of 1965, a new group from Illinois, saying the place needs rebuilding is ready for success, here comes Seminole Downs.      

Seminole Downs

On November 26, 1966 the modern era Seminole Downs begins as a group of Illinois investors promise the "birth of thoroughbred racing" in mid Florida. Their plan would include two firsts, for Florida, nighttime and summer racing. Racing begin April 21, 1967 as 5,210 fans showed up, that number would never be surpassed and another past problem showed up.

One of the past problems with Seminole whatever it was called, was getting there and this version was no exception. On opening night the narrow access road was backed up, post time was pushed back from 7:45 to 7:50. As the announcer was announcing four minutes to post, the gate swung open and he quickly said "they're off" it seems the starter never got the word. Race goers were still arriving during the forth race on the inaugural night, not a good omen for the new track.

Turf ParadiseSeminole Downs 1970

 After a crazy first night, management vowed to fix the problems, they changed traffic patterns and added parking spots, but would it be enough? The first crack showed up rather innocently at the end of April, post time was changed from 7:45 to 8:00 and weekend racing was reduced from ten to nine races. Innocent enough but everything starts somewhere.

A week later another seemingly minor change, dropping Monday racing in favor of Thursday, but the dam burst on May 20, when it was announced racing was being cut back to three days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It seemed the end was near and it was, on Monday June 12 the season was cancelled, twelve nights early. Citing problems with traffic and of all things underestimating the daily handle (their version $135,000 nightly, reality $58,000) they promised to return in 1968. The group did apply for dates in 1968, but quickly redrew the request, stating they needed more time to build a clubhouse, so people could have a place to eat, another reason, given for failure. Guess you can't bet on an empty stomach, anyway they just dried up and blew away. Enter Seminole Turf Club, clubhouse and all.

Seminole Turf Club

Turf ParadiseSign of the times

Another year, another group of investors, this group toys with the idea of taking Seminole out of the name, but eventually settle on Seminole Turf Club, for a new handle. In April of 1969, they begin another upgrade, including the construction of a clubhouse, but racing isn't scheduled until April of 1970. The upgrade includes expanding the track surface from five eights to three quarters of a mile. With a widened entry road and upgraded facilities the estimated opening day attendance of 7,000 people, came closer to 4,000 who came out for the opener. Everyone who showed up for the six night a week, 90 day meet were impressed with the plant, but would that be enough? 

Maybe things would be different this time, in mid May the track asked the Florida Racing Commission for an extension of race dates to have charity nights for scholarship funds. Then it started, a few days before a planned Memorial Day double header, the matinee was cancelled, for lack of horses. A few days later a statement was issued, saying the track had no plans give it up, never a good sign.

Where have you heard this before? First Seminole dropped Monday racing then in June, they went to a three day Thursday, Friday, Saturday scheduled. Then on July 11, vowing to return next year, track owners said racing would end on July 18 a month early. Their promise to return never happened, looks like it's gonna get harnessed again.

Harness Racing Returns

In December of 1971, a plan starts to take shape, that will return harness racing to the Casselberry oval. Most of 1972 was tied up in court, but by the end of the year, sidewinders were back on the track training for an expected 1973 season. With, once again much optimism and a full stable area, harness racing kick off before 4,400 fans on April 27. Looks like harness racing was the answer, as the meet concluded on September 3, running a complete schedule for once. Not only did the 1973 season finish, 1974 ended a 99 day run in the black, reason for get excited, maybe. 

In 1975, Seminole was granted split racing dates, April 16 to June 30 and October 1 to November 15, hoping to beat the summer heat. Track management got what it wanted, but here we go again. Soon after the first half of racing concluded, rumors begin to swirl that the Casselberry plant was again for sale. Maybe, it was just a rumor, in mid August one of the partners said "we'll race till we die", usually code for things aren't great. The fall meet did start on schedule, less the "race till we die" guy, he was fired a month before racing began. Racing did survived a third year and in 1976 welcome Seminole Harness Raceway.

Seminole Harness Raceway

Turf ParadiseSeminole Harness with Clubhouse

With a new management team, the 109 night program kicked off on May 3, with a new handle, Seminole Harness Raceway. Surprisingly the track survived the name change and finished off the season. Excited about the revenue from trifecta wagering the track opens for a fourth consecutive year in 1977. Changing things up a bit the track will switch Tuesdays and Thursdays to afternoon racing. The afternoon delight didn't last long, as track officials caved to horseman and returned to night racing. Before the beginning of the 78 season horseman got some bad news, the owner of a dog track in Ebro, had made an offer to buy Seminole, with a plan to convert it to dog racing. Despite the news the harness horses showed up for a fifth straight year and the track had it's most profitable year ever.

In a surprise development, the dogs were held at bay, as the current track president pulled off a deal and purchased the track in April of 1979, assuring the horses will keep running. Optimism was high for the new owners, but  the euphoria didn't last long. In December the owner of the Ebro dog track finally gained control of Seminole Harness Raceway, effectively ending horse racing in Casselberry. Seminole Downs has gone to the dogs!        

Seminole Greyhound Park

On February 20, 1981, Zipper made it's first run around the new dog track in anticipation of the start of dog racing. Zipper is the name given to the mechanical rabbit at Seminole Greyhound Park. In other states where dog racing is legal there has been a natural attrition from horse racing to dog racing, it has happened in New Hampshire, Vermont, West Virginia and even Florida, but Seminole will be the first track that someone has bought out to convert. Heeere comes Zipper, expecting 7,000, only 2,130 show up on May 3, for the beginning of dog racing in Casselberry. In the end dog racing turned out to be the most popular of all. The greyhounds lasted 20 years until 2000. The track was imploded August 30, 2003 and now is a housing development.    


You would think businessmen would be smart people, but when it comes to investing in racetracks they just seem to lose their minds. Seminole Downs is a great example of that, starting in the mid sixties when that group built a million dollar grandstand which was hardly used until the net group came. The first thoroughbred bred spent millions, installed a new track that they hardly used. The next thoroughbred group spent even more building a clubhouse and changing the size of the track, only to leave it for the harness guys who followed. This group spent millions and even wanted to return the track to the size the first thoroughbred guys had,after they ripped up the track they had and replaced it with clamshells or something, so it was hard as a rock and they could get a sub two minute mile. The last one, the dog guy spent seven million to get it ready for dog racing. It must have been good to be in construction during that period.

If nothing else they were all nice guys, leaving it better than they found it, for the next sucker