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History challenge: Memories of Havre de Grace Racetrack live on
By Ron Hale
Ask horseplayers today about Havre de Grace, and you’ll probably hear about a wonderful filly who beat the boys in the Woodward Stakes and is the reigning Horse of the Year.
Ask an old-timer, particularly one from the East Coast, and you’ll probably hear about a racetrack that attracted thousands of fans, rich owners, big bettors, and more than two dozen horses who are enshrined in racing’s Hall of Fame.
The filly was named by her owner, Rick Porter, after the historic track located on the Susquehanna River near the Chesapeake Bay, about 40 miles north of Baltimore.
Havre de Grace opened its gates 100 years ago this summer on Aug. 24, 1912, and concluded its inaugural five-week meeting Sept. 30.
For the next 38 years, it held meetings in the spring and fall, except during World War II. Its final day of racing was April 26, 1950, when it became the property of the Maryland National Guard.
The clubhouse still stands today and serves as National Guard offices. The lower grandstand has been converted to a warehouse for the Guard’s armory. The area where the one-mile oval was located is still mostly open land, and when you’re nearby and close your eyes, you can almost hear a thundering field rounding the far turn.
Test your knowledge of this great jewel of the past.
1. Havre de Grace was the second of three racetracks to be quickly developed in Maryland from 1911 to 1914.
Laurel Park conducted its inaugural meeting in 1911, and Bowie Race Course, then known as Prince George Park, opened its doors in 1914.
The three tracks joined Pimlico, which opened in 1870, ceased to conduct Thoroughbred racing from 1890 to 1903 because of bankruptcy, and reopened in 1904. Pimlico and Laurel continue to race today. Bowie ceased racing in 1985.
Why did Maryland rush to build three tracks in less than four years?
2. Investors from Kentucky to New York played key roles in the development of Havre de Grace. The grandstand, clubhouse, and paddock were constructed in less than two months at a cost of $125,000, plus $20,000 for the property.
The track’s long-term success was due in large part, however, to a man known as one of the best oddsmakers in the New York. He served as general manager and would run Havre de Grace for 31 years. Name him.
3. Many historians regard Man o’ War’s hard-fought victory over John P. Grier in the 1920 Dwyer Stakes as the big red horse’s greatest race.
The pine eighth pole with its gold redwood ball on top removed from old Aqueduct, where the Dwyer was held, along with a plaque denoting that great race, stood in the gardens of new Aqueduct for more than 50 years before being moved just inside the gates at Saratoga in 2010.
When asked, however, owner Samuel D. Riddle always said he thought this race at Havre de Grace was his champion’s supreme moment on the track. Name the race.
4. Havre de Grace’s spring meeting was a popular stop for horses prepping for the classics.
Citation won his first career start at age 2 in 1947 at what the track regulars referred to as “The Graw.” He returned there to win his third appearance as a juvenile.
Citation lost his only start in 20 races at age 3 in Havre de Grace’s Chesapeake Trial, but came back five days later to win the Chesapeake Stakes. He went on to win the Triple Crown.
Big Cy wasn’t the only Triple Crown winner who won his debut at age 2 at Havre de Grace and prepped for the Derby there the following spring. Name the other.
5. Walkovers – a race where only one horse starts – are one of racing’s true rarities. More common in the early history of the sport, there have been only two walkovers in stakes at major tracks in the past half-century.
In 1997, Sharp Cat’s only two opponents were scratched in the Bayakoa Handicap at Hollywood Park. Before that, the immortal Spectacular Bid walked over in the final race of his career in the Woodward Stakes at Belmont Park in 1980.
Before the Bid, the most recent walkover in a major stakes occurred at Havre de Grace in 1949 and involved this future Hall of Fame member. Name the colt and the race.
Get the answers HERE.
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