Turf ParadiseProgram 1969
Turf ParadiseFirst Sunday

Green Mountain Park

It's kind of sad, but the pattern seems consistent, for tracks that have failed. When the track is just a glimmer until it's born, there is much optimism and excitement. After it's born people come from far and wide to see it, it's parents are excited about the money these people bring. The town it lives in is equally excited because they receive gifts too. The local papers run stories, ads, print entries and results everyone is thrilled. It takes a little while then things start to change.

The people don't come as often, the parents get upset, they tell the town they can't give them as much money as they use to, the town gets upset, they feud. The papers have long ago stopped writing stories, they may no longer even print entries or results, no one pays for ads anymore. The track has matured, but is a burden to it's parents, they feel they have no choice but to abandon it. Without any care the track dies, sometimes it is humanly destroyed, sometimes it is just left to rot! This is pretty much the story of Green Mountain Park.

1960 Let the Games Begin

This story begins back in 1959, when pari mutual wagering was legalized in Vermont. In 1960 two entities approached the state about building a racetrack in the southwest corner of the state. With Vermont, not being a large or populous place and the southeast border already having a track just over the border in New Hampshire, this seemed the only logical choice. One group, Catamont Raceways was made up of locals who wanted to build a one million dollar harness track. The other was The Taconic Racing and Breeding Association, headed by New England Horseracing legend Lou Smith, his group wanted to build a four million, thoroughbred and harness racing facility. Both groups were interested in land at Pownal, a few mile from the Massachusetts border, but before anything could be decided the residents needed to approve the request.

Turf ParadiseLou Smith Breaks Ground

Finally In December of 1960, it came up for a vote and was unanimously approved by a three to one margin, the track had a home. After many meetings and dog and pony shows by each group on why they should be chosen to build the track. It took almost another year, but a winner was finally chosen. The Taconic Racing and Breeding Association, got the nod on November 9, 1961. Probably needing to wait for a spring thaw, the ground breaking ceremony was held on March 23, 1962.

The track itself was going to be a massive five story building, with the clubhouse on the top floor, as opposed to the traditional separate building. The grandstand would have 3,424 seats, with an additional 576 box seats. The clubhouse would seat 690, and a clubhouse restaurant that would seat 320 diners. There would be room for 12,000 standees. It was estimated that the track could accommodate a peak crowd between 20 - 23,000 fans, a number that never came close to be tested. For the horseman there were 800 stalls for horses and living quarters for grooms. Jockey's were given their own state of the art quarters with showers, saunas and a rest area for between races. Motorist would get a large paved parking lot that could hold 8,000 cars. This was no Berkshire Downs, first class all the way, but it didn't go exactly as planned. The track itself will be a lighted 13/16 mile oval and a 5/8 cut out for harness racing. The infield will include two lagoons controlled by water from the nearby Hoosac River. 

Turf ParadiseGreen Mountain 1962

The construction was coming along nicely and track officials were optimistic that the plant could open for a 44 night harness meet that would start September 28. In June, the track became officially know as Green Mountain Park. They say animals can smell fear, maybe carpenters can too. Citing "sub standard wages and unsafe work conditions" they staged a wildcat strike on July 16, it looks like they were trying to get their wages raised from $2.75 an hour to $3.75. The strike seemed to be settled in three or four days, but it was given one of the reasons the track would not open in 1962 .Looks like 1963 will be the year.

1963 Green is for Go

Turf ParadiseReady for Racing

On Friday May 24, 1963 the big day arrived, Lou Smith's grand plan was about to begin. He was offering horseman minimum 1,800 purses, hoping to attract better horses and jockeys. For the fans a state of the art 4 million dollar facility, what could go wrong.  The new track would offer 56 days of thoroughbred racing from May 24 to July 27. After that a 42 day harness racing meet, from August 26 to October 12.

Shortly after 2:00pm under perfect blue skies, Oxbow, Roy Parker up easily wins the first race to set a new track record. It is then that something does appear to be wrong, those 12,000 fans who were supposed to show up "didn't get the memo", only 4,700 showed up. Good news bad news with less than half the expected crowd  $220,000 of the projected $400,000 was bet, so I guess it could have been worse.

Turf ParadiseTheeere Off!

 Well actually it was pretty bad, after only two weeks, employee's were being laid off and rumors were circulating that the troubled track was going to fold up. Trying to pull a rabbit out of their hat and salvage their investment, management decided to switch to twilight racing, pushing post time back to four thirty. That wasn't much of a hit either, there was only one card left to play, night racing.

Never anticipating to run night thoroughbred racing, there were only enough lights to cover the 5/8 mile harness track. Three more towers were  hastily erected and after a month, on June 24, Green Mountain was running under the lights. Another problem was money, horseman were told those $1,800 minimum purses were being cut to $1,200 and the track informed the state, that they needed some help and needed the take out lowered. Night racing started out a little better than day racing as over 3,000 fans came out on that first Monday. From there things started to pick up, so much so that the planned fall harness meet was scrapped and another thoroughbred meet would be run.

Turf ParadiseOliver Cutshaw

The first meet ended on an encouraging note as 10,307 attended that final day and bet $327,614, maybe Green Mountain Park Could make it!  Veteran reinsman Oliver Cutshaw took top riding honors for the initial meet. He was followed by Thommy Thorndike, Phil Ernst, Mario Benelto and Roy Parker rounded out the top five. Parker who won the first race here, suffered a broken hand and was sidelined for part of the meet.

With veteran announcer Dick Wooley back in the booth, Green Mountain kicked of it's first fall meet on August 31, trying to build on the momentum from the spring meet racing remained at night. Always an innovator Green Mountain introduced the Twin Double, the first big money wager, introduced at Monticello Raceway on May 30, 1963. The bet was based on two daily doubles, usually the fifth and sixth as the first double. If you had winning tickets on that double you could exchange each of them for a ticket on the second half, usually the seventh and eight race. I don't know what the record payout at Green Mountain ever was, but several large tracks had payouts over $100,000, not bad for two bucks!  The track even held a nightly clinic, before the races, on the rules and betting strategies of the Twin Double. If it was the Twin Double or people just feeling comfortable about gambling, it didn't take long to set a new track record.

Turf ParadiseMeeting Extended

It was a month later, but the first day of racing since the track attendance and handle records had been set, and the crowd didn't disappoint. A record crowd of 10,370 bet $322,778 to surpass the previous mark. On Saturday September 21st Green Mountain returned to day racing for the remainder of the meet, 6,000 plus showed up for the first day card. In another upgrade to the plant, the film patrol has been replaced by closed circuit television, which gives both stewards and fans immediate replays of each race. In a surprise move the Vermont Racing Commission, granted Green Mountain an extension on the racing season, scheduled to close on October 12, the track will now run through November 11. Good news, bad news, on what was to be the last day of racing for the year, Green Mountain held a day night doubleheader where, $755,823 was bet on both card. The afternoon races were attended by 10,605 another track record. On a down note, racings ugly side surfaced as four trainers are suspended in a horse doping scandal. To close out on a high note, $474,241 was bet on the Veteran's Day finale, setting a new handle record. Billy M. Williams came away with the fall riding crown, edging out Phil Ernst. The inaugural champ Oliver Cutshaw, finished third, with Ted Johnson and Allan Fairbanks, rounding out the top five.

1964 Green Mountain Gets Into Harness

Turf ParadiseLightning Creed's Pacing Derby 1967

After a year delay harness racing made it's debut on April fourth. An opening day crowd of 10,319 bet $330,471 a very encouraging sign for the struggling track. Jean Mir, with Dave Dunckley in the bike was the first standardbred to step into the winners circle. The harness meet which ended with a Memorial Day double header was such a success, that purses were raised during the meet.

The thoroughbreds took over in June and ran until November, there was a week layoff in September ending the summer meet and starting the fall meet. During the fall meet, advanced betting, a common occurrence today was introduced, fans were able to bet the last two races on the card after the second race.

1965 started out with an all too common problem, Green Mountain was losing money and needed tax breaks. Both the state and the track dug in on this one, but when Green Mountain cancelled the upcoming spring harness season. Vermont got the message and backed down, the harness meet started a week later than plan, but racing was back on. During the thoroughbred meet, on Labor Day, Green Mountain would record it's largest crowd ever 12,136, those fans bet $660,864 that day. By now Green Mountain had settled into a normal routine but a major impact on racing was only a couple of years away.      

Turf ParadiseRecord Twin Double 1968

Never on Sunday ?

After a couple of years of normal operation, in 1968 someone got the bright idea to ask the Vermont Racing Commission, permission to hold racing on Sunday's. There were some objections but it got approved, (Green Mountain officials claimed they had no interest in Sunday racing). So with a couple of weeks left in the harness season on March 31st, 9,406 fans turned out to usher in Sunday racing on the east coast and racing would be changed forever! In a sadder note, in October two thoroughbreds were killed by a delivery truck on Route 7 and another was pulled off the railroad tracks shortly before being struck by a train. It seemed the frolicking trio had escaped their stalls the night before and were roaming about freely.   

Enough is Enough!

1969 started out with the usual harness racing meet, but it was anything but normal after that. It seems somewhere along the way the State of Vermont, voted itself a raise, adjusting the state's takeout from five and a half percent to six percent. Well he we go again, we're closing the track after the harness meet, was the response from Green Mountain. It looks like Vermont blinked again, takeout went back to previous levels. The track then had to survive a local vote on Sunday racing, which was easily passed in favor of 2 - 1. After that Green Mountain must have really been feeling it's oats (no pun intended). Martin DeMatteo teamed up with new owner of Suffolk Downs, Bill Veeck to buy Berkshire Downs and shut it down.

Berkshire Downs, a crumbling mess in nearby Hancock, Massachusetts had been a thorn in both their sides for years. Suffolk Downs coveted their race date, Green Mountain wanted to eliminate the competition, a match made in horsy  heaven. Green Mountain must now have been feeling full of itself, so much so they had the initial (and only) running of their richest race the Green Mountain Gold Cup.

Turf ParadiseGold Cup Presentation

The race was a $15,000 handicap, it brought in a horse named Misty Run, trained by Allen Jerkins and ridden by Ron Turcotte, of Secretariat fame, unfortunately it only attracted three other horses. Misty Run didn't disappoint, winning the win bet only event by five lengths, setting a track record in the process. The next and final day of the season another record was set when the twin double payout was $32,906.60. In another bizarre horse tale for the year, New York State Police, found the body of a horse that had been kidnapped from Green Mountain, the horse had been shot to death.

Starting out in the early seventies things were pretty quite, the only exciting thing might have been Herve Filion showing up for Sunday afternoon harness racing. Going from memory I would have said that he showed up every Sunday and won half the races, not true. It liked like he was there once and a while, winning an average number of races for a guy who won over 4.000. The real news would come late in 1972.

In typical fashion 1972 started out with Green Mountain and the State of Vermont once again at odds, this time it was about the racing commission. The state concluded that Green Mountain should foot the bill for the Racing Commission, the track countered with why should they pay for the group that regulates them. Once again Green Mountain played the "were going home" card, but this time the straw may have broken the camels back. Rumors circulated that Green Mountain Park was for sale, by years end it no longer was a rumor.

In January of 1973, the Rooney Family of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania owners of the Pittsburg Steelers, Liberty Bell and Yonkers Raceway took over ownership of Green Mountain Park. One of the first upgrades they made was to eliminate the 5/8 mile harness track, harness racing would now be conducted on the same surface as their other tracks on the 13/16 thoroughbred oval.

In 1974, Green Mountain suffered it's first fatality on the track, when jockey Donald Barattini, died on April 30, from injuries received in a spill on April 18. Not a good start to the year, things would only get worse. The rumor mill started again, this time it was dog racing. The rumors turned out to be true, as the Vermont Racing Commission legalized dog racing in September. With the end of racing, work immediately begin on constructing the new dog oval, in anticipation of a 1975 meet.

Turf ParadiseTraining Together

Wasting no time, the harness horses started up on January 10. Thoroughbred racing ended in early September and the stage was set for history as standardbreds, thoroughbreds and dogs would all run at the same track in one year, but history would have to wait. A dispute with the New England Greyhound Association could not be resolved and the inaugural meet was cancelled. Thoroughbreds were called back into action as a fall meet was hastily put in place, but the inevitable was the inevitable.

In 1976, they didn't even wait for 1976, the winter meet began in late December of 1975, but it didn't look like the Rooney's new track was working out as races were carded at seven furlongs. A quick check of a Monday night card showed over 2,000 in attendance, about a thousand more than I would have suspected. The Thoroughbreds showed up for their final appearance in April, running for $1,300 minimum purses, less than in 1963. On September 12, 6,028 turned out to see Princess Queen, being the last horse who would ever be led to the winners circle at Green Mountain. The day was also marred by tragedy when jockey Thomas Arroyo was trampled to death.

On Friday, September 24, 1976 Green Mountain once again writes racing history, as it becomes the first track to run thoroughbreds, standardbreds and canines on the same oval, the same year. The door for horse racing closed as the door for the dog box was opening and I was there to see it. After that night, I only made one other visit to the "Mountain", I was at Saratoga Harness for the Aqueduct simulcast on a Sunday, sometime late eighties, the weather was bad and the races were cancelled. On the way home I still needed a fix, so I veered off a little bit and headed for Green Mountain. In all the times I was there this would be the only time I would use the north entrance and I was handsomely rewarded for attending as I received a knit ski cap, which I still own today   


It's hard to believe that Green Mountain Park celebrated a golden anniversary a few years back and nobody knew or cared. It's even harder to believe that horse racing only existed for fourteen of those years.

Green Mountain didn't end up having all the drama that Berkshire Downs, about all it ever seemed to have was the normal race fixing scam here and there, but it did have a much better pedigree. To me Green Mountain was the second best maintained track in New England, next to Rockingham Park, but that's not hard to believe knowing Lou Smith was involved in both.

Speaking of Lou Smith, he got to see Sunday racing, but not much more, he passed on April 22, 1969 at the age of 81.

Martin Dematteo, co-founder and Vice President under Lou Smith, took over as president when Smith passed the torch. Dematteo sold the track to the Rooney's of Pittsburg in 1973. He passed away on March 10, 2010.

Vincent Bartimo, was the tracks General Manager under Dematteo, he moved on to the DeBartelo organization after the track was sold. He died November 30, 2016 at 95.

The Rooney's eventually sold the track at a reported steep discount some years later. The Rooney's are still involved in the horse racing business.