From the Boneyard - Hagerstown Fair

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I recently got a post and some nice photos from Tim Gelwicks, who grew up three minutes from the track, so I figured it was a good time to look back on the one time Maryland Fair oval.

Hagerstown started out as most fairs did as a half mile harness oval (above) over time thoroughbreds moved in and the oval was increased to five eights of a mile. Along with Bel Air, Cumberland, Marlboro and Timonium it was part of a circuit that at it's height, raced for sixty days a year. Hagerstown, followed Bel Air and Cumberland into history in 1970, Marlboro would soon follow, leaving Timonium as the last fair track standing.

Today (below) Hagerstown is unique, if you go there you don't have to stare at someone's house or look at a rundown factory, you can actually visit the grandstand as it was back in 1970. A nice treat for fans of racetrack history.

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From the Boneyard - The Marshfield Fair

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If racing was still going on at the Marshfield Fair, it would be starting to come alive. This is the time of year the Massachusetts Fair season would kick off four weeks of racing. The racing would start out around Cape Cod and end up in the Berkshires. Marshfield was the longest continuous running fair in Eastern Massachusetts. The fair known as "Saratoga East" ceased racing in 1991, after a fifty year plus run.

   New England riding legend Denise Boudrot rode in her only fair appearance at Marshfield in 1985, a winning effort aboard Trapeze Artist. Less than a week later on August 25, she rode twice on the Suffolk Downs card, her last mounts ever. Her last ride also a winning one.

The Last Ferris Wheel - The Timonium Fair

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No picture of horses racing at the fairs is worth it's salt without a ferris wheel in the background and the Timonium Fair, is the only place on the East Coast where you can get that view. At one time both Maryland and Massachusetts had up to five tracks each running during the fair season, Timonium is the last track standing but it's had to survive several attempts to plow it into the ground.

   This years running of the fair, which dates back to the late eighteen hundreds, will run for seven days over two weekends starting on August 27 and ending on Labor Day. Post time is 12:40, with the exception of day one with a 3:00 PM post. So if your in the mood for some bullring racing come on out, but it's gonna cost ten bucks to get in as the races are run in conjunction with the Maryland State Fair.

From the Boneyard - Shenandoah Downs

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Shenandoah Downs or "Shenny" as the locals called it, was never intended to run thoroughbreds, it was built to run standardbreds. This would explain it's proximity to Charles Town Race Course and the tight five eights mile oval. The track built in 1959, could not secure a license to run harness racing so they had to co-exist with Charles Town. Heading into the seventies the track's popularity started to wane, the gas shortage of the time put a dent in business, so much so the track installed gas pumps for it's customers. In the mid-seventies Shenandoah was bought out by Charles Town and eventually shut down, the Shenandoah Oval became a training track. Over the years Shenandoah featured the running of the Tri State Futurity, I was there in 68 when North Flight and Michael Hole showed up to win that years edition. The track known for it's three and a half furlong sprints would die a horrible death.

    After it was shut down, the racing strip was maintained, not so much for the grandstand. There was a piece on the Internet about Shenandoah Downs, not featuring it as a racetrack, but instead it was used as an example of a toxic waste site, it was in bad shape. After nearly thirty years, it was put out of it's misery in 2006. Today there is just an empty field, where the track existed, nothing to suggest it ever existed.

From the Boneyard - Commodore Downs

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Commodore Downs, lasted a total of fourteen years, nine as Commodore, two as Lake Shore Meadows(harness racing) and two as Erie Downs.  I've tried for over fifteen years to find a photo of the grandstand to no avail. I contacted the Erie Papers a few times but got no response, finally I contacted the Fairview Historic Society. Fairview is where Commodore Downs was actually located, they were very helpful and sent me a copy of the only picture they had.  It is an action shot of the horses going into the first turn, with only a little piece of the grandstand visible but I still cherish it as the only photo ever taken at the Fairview oval. In hindsight I guess I only have myself to blame.

My only visit to Commodore Downs was in 1973, far from the digital age. I was returning returning home from Michigan and was planning on stops at Thistledowns and Commodore. Armed with my trusty road atlas I spent most of my day looking for Thistledowns in Toledo. No surprise I never found it, but did get a good look at harness horses training at Raceway Park. Later in the day as I drove through Cleveland, I saw the exit for Thistledowns, it was late I was a little upset with myself, so I continued on to Commodore Downs. I guess where I'm going with this, is that I arrived at the track two hours before first post and my camera was with me and I didn't snap one picture.

Hey, it was July of 1973 the country was caught up in Secretariat mania, racing was alive , these places will be around forever, yah!. After all that useless information, what I'm hoping for is someone out there didn't really care about their camera and actually took a picture at Commodore Down. If you did let me know, I'd love to get a copy, so everyone can enjoy it's beauty.

From the Boneyard - 3 County Fair

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It wouldn't be Labor Day in Western Massachusetts, without a trip to the, 3 County Fair in Northampton, for many years opening day of six days of racing, for the longest running fair track in Massachusetts. Over the years the racing dates increased from six to ten as other fairs started discontinuing racing.

In the mid seventies the fair started to decline, you have to give the organizers credit they kept it going to 2005. During that period, besides trying to bring horses in, they increased racing days, eliminated mid week races, running only on weekends, they disconnected from the fair offering horse players cheaper parking and admissions, brought in simulcasting. In the end it was just to much to overcome, even Zippy Chippy wasn't enough.

When questioned for reasons why racing was ending, one of the answers was lack of jockeys. Looking back the number of jockeys were declining and most of those riding had been around for awhile. I know a few of you on this site rode at the fairs and I would like to thank you for risking life and limb for my enjoyment. There were times when I might have said some things I didn't rally mean, but thats all in the past, so I apologize for those outbursts. Hope you forgive me.

From the Boneyard - Great Barrington Fair

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From 1940 till 1976 under the leadership of Ed Carroll, a local business man who owned Riverside Park (now Six Flags), the largest amusment park in New England, The Great Barrington Fair was the premier stop on the fair circuit. The "Big-B" not only had the largest purses, it had a commercial style grandstand with a clubhouse section, with the most scenic grounds on the circuit. Even the ride there was enjoyable, looping through the Berkshires along the Housatonic River, there was even culture along the way with Chester Wood and the Norman Rockwell museum on the route. Did I mention it had it's own steak house on the grounds, did anyone ever eat there? I was always too distracted on the way in and too broke on the way out.

In 1978, the fair dates at Berkshire Downs were moved to Great Barrington, a move that paid off for 24 year old apprentice rider, Debbie Riemers, who rode 17 year old war horse, Golden Arrow to victory and national prominence that first year. Unfortunately, for Great Barrington the "Black Cloud" that hung over Berkshire Downs, also made the 30 mile journey south.

Interest started to fall off for the fair and in 1983, new owners combined the start of the Berkshire meet with an Irish Music Festival, sounds harmless, well the $12.50 admission wasn't, horse player were irate and pretty much boycotted the Berkshire season, causing a financial loss that alost cost the running of the Barrington meet. Barrington did go to post, but for the last time for eight years.

In 1984, the track was so strapped it wasn't granted a license, but it was a mute point, as the usually peaceful Housatonic River overflowed it's banks in the spring and wiped out the Barrington racing surface. After an expensive rebuild the track re-opened in 1991, but only lasted a that year. In 1995 the "jinx" continued, a tornado of all things ripped through Great Barrington and took dead aim on you know what, but there was one bullet left in the chamber.

Eventually another sucker, I mean investor came along and after another costly rebuild racing reurned to the fair in 1997, with the hope of turning the track into a OTB. The OTB never happened and racing ended for good after the 1998 fair. Today the grounds sit abandoned like a scene out of "Great Expections", there was idle chatter about racing returning after Suffolk Downs closed, but it was just noise. It looks like Barrington will follow the Weymouth Fair and become a housing develpment.

Over the years, everyone seemed to love Great Barrington, well almost everyone, there is Andy Beyers who didn't seemed too taken by the place. His opinion, "Barrington Fair, Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Crime" guess he never heard the quip "All's Fair at the Fair"