My Top 10 Tracks That Were Killed Off

This will be a countdown of my top pari mutual tracks, that for one reason or another don't exist anymore. There is no doubt that horse racing doesn't have the same appeal that it did when it was the only game in town, but it would be nice if these venues had survived. Will your track make the list?

Pikes Peak Meadows

10 Northampton Fair

What went wrong here:  I think it was just time to end it and the fair organizers realized it. In it's last year, 2005 the track made a profit, but racing seemed watered down. Racing days were down to seven and races per day were only eight, with only a few full fields. The majority of horses shipping in came from Suffolk Downs, the last commercial track in New England and who knew how long they would be around. The meet started on Friday and by Labor Day over eighty percent of the entries had a race on the track. The next and last weekend that number was over ninety percent, surely horses were an issue. Add to that the cost of maintaining the racing surface, which had it's share of accidents in the recent past, the fair was ready to move on from horse racing.

If you drive on I-91 near Northampton, you'll notice the red grandstand  is still there, but that's about it, the stables are gone, large buildings take up the backstretch.  saying racing is done here. Northampton, was my first, so it has a special meaning for me,  it's hard to imagine how a track who's most famous horse never won a race, got on the list. Zippy Chippy lost eleven races here including his last and record breaking one hundredth, sadly Zippy passed in April 2022 at the age of 31, spending his last 12 years, as one of the favorites at Old Friends Farm. In this case, it's not the track itself that got it on the list, it's what it represented.

Fair racing in Massachusetts started in 1936, at Brockton, in 2005 Northampton was the last track standing. So almost after seventy years of tradition, Northampton joined Berkshire Downs, Brockton, Great Barrington, Middleboro, Marshfield and Weymouth, as the Massachusetts fair circuit rode off into the sunset. That would leave only Timonium, as the last fair track on the east coast, as Maryland which had nice fair circuit in the sixties, suffered the same fate as Massachusetts.

Hats off to the small group of people who kept Northampton alive as long as they did. It's not like they didn't try, they added days and eliminated weekday racing. They created a separate admission and parking area so bettors didn't have to pay the higher fair fees. They brought in simulcasting and for a while Northampton showed up on some ADW sites. Too bad it was all in vein. 

Pikes Peak Meadows

9 Ak-sar-ben

What went wrong here:  In 1992, The Knights of Aksarben donated the track to another non profit the Douglas Racing Corporation. It seems they intended to keep on racing, in 1993 they added a seven furlong chute to the track and if they meant to sell it off for the land they sure took their time about it. By 1990, gambling wasn't the demon it once was, as politicians realized that gambling meant revenue's and bordering  states legalized casinos, dog and horse racing. For the first time Aksarben was facing competition that looks like what did them in.

 As the Ak-sar-ben faithful filed out of the track on August 8, 1995 little did they realize that they would not be filling back in again. The track opened in 1919, as a non profit organization under the guidance of the Knights of Aksarben. A few years later a Coliseum was added to the site and at one point served as a teletheather and betting area for the overflow crowds that attended the races.

Pikes Peak Meadows Aksarben, was the only mile track in Nebraska, running during the late spring and early summer, it only needed an open air grandstand, which was fairly good sized. The Grandstand had seating for 11,500, another 700 in the clubhouse. There was also lots of room for horses with stalls for 1,500 runners and you could park your car in the infield. The tracks signature race The Cornhusker debuted in 1966, when Bill Hartack rode Royal gunner to victory. The Cornhusker, gained in stature and peaked as a Grade II in the eighties. The 1982 version set an attendance record when 31,000 fans turned out to watch Willie Shoemaker finish dead last on favored Brents Trans Am. In 1990 the Cornhusker was downsize to a Grade III, as the racing sun begin to set in Omaha. It was not uncommon to see million dollar handles on the weekends, on June 6, 1985 the track record was set when over three million was bet.  Not bad for a track with a purse value index of 8.

What made Aksarben a hit, was probably it's downfall, for years it was the only game in town, drawing bettors from other states, but in the nineties the landscape started to change when Iowa and Kansas legalized pari mutual racing. Ironically one of those venues Prairie Meadow, located in Des Moines is now the home of The Cornhusker. Wonder if anyone from Omaha shows up. In 1995, the racetrack shut down, the Coliseum followed in 2002 and the facility was leveled in 2005. Now, all that's left of the "jewel of the midwest" is a plaque honoring 1935 triple crown winner Omaha.

Racing has barely survived in Nebraska, in the sixties there were seven tracks in the state. Today only Fonner Park and Columbus run some sort of meet, but slots were finally legalized, so who knows, racing could see a revival and maybe a new Ak-sar-ban. Don't hold your breath!   


Liberty Bell

Pikes Peak Meadows Pikes Peak Meadows

8 (Tie) Brandywine and Liberty Bell

What went wrong here:  By the mid eighties interest in harness racing was waning, competition for the wagering dollar in the Mid-Atlantic was intense and a long standing alliance was broken by Liberty Bell, with head to head competition. These would kill Liberty Bell, but something else would get Brandywine.

Its hard to separate these two tracks who were only forty miles apart, as they basically were the same place. Brandywine was the first to appear in 1953. It had things pretty much it's own way till 1963 when pari mutual racing became legal in Pennsylvania and Liberty Bell came along. Both tracks co-existed for years with Liberty Bell running a spring and fall meet, with Brandywine having the summer to itself. They both had thoroughbred sized grandstands, that in there prime drew thoroughbred sized crowds and had some of the premier harness races in the country. Liberty Bell even enjoyed the benefit of thoroughbred  racing during it's dark time for a few years, but there would be too much to overcome.

In 1984, Liberty Bell broke the treaty and started racing year round, which meant head to head competition with Brandywine and under Pennsylvania law a new thoroughbred track was built in Philly, costing Liberty Bell that revenue. The final blow came when Garden State Park re-opened across the river with nighttime thoroughbred racing and a fall harness meet, it looks like Brandywine won the war.

Brandywine would go on to survive it's sister track by four years, but could not escape the same fate. Liberty Bell went away but the problems with harness racing, that beautiful large track with it's hefty purse structure were taking a toll, Brandywine had one chance to survive. Track owners kept the place running with the expectation of getting a slot parlor, but in 1989 that bid was defeated and it was curtains for "The Big-B". Ironically the measure passed five years later and saved what was left of racing in Delaware.

Today the site of Liberty Bell is a mall, while Brandywine's is a housing development. A new track Harrah's Chester was built in Pennsylvania, about half from each track it replaced. Now called Harrah' s Philly, it carried on most of the major races run at Liberty Bell and even kept the Battle of Brandywine alive for a while, but all of those races seem to be discontinued at present.

Pikes Peak Meadows

7 Longacres

What went wrong here:  Looks like a familiar story, an aging site, declining in popularity, where the land is more valuable then the racetrack. With the rise of major sports teams in Seattle came the fall of Longacres, Boing made the owners an offer they couldn't refuse and that was the end of an era.

With a backdrop of Mount Rainier and surrounded by it's signature Lombardi Poplars, Longacres was listed as one of the top ten tracks in the country. Built  in 1933 it was intended to honor the French track Longchamps, over the years Longacres was know as an innovator and after many renovations had a grandstand capacity of 17,000. Those renovations left the grandstand with many nooks and cranny's for horseplayers to hang out. The facility was sold to Boing Aircraft in 1990 and they let the track race for two more years, so it's fans knew the last day of racing and could have a proper sendoff. September 9, 1992 was the last day of racing at Renton, the final race was won by Idaho native and future hall of famer, Gary Stevens.

In a twist of fate Boing also had to sell the property, they never developed the entire site and part of the track is still visible as are some of the Lombardi Poplars, looking a little unkempt from their glory days, the rest of the one time jewel, is just a giant parking lot.