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In its heyday, Maryland had nine thoroughbred racing tracks

By Staff | Jun 29, 2018

The Maryland Fair Racing Circuit and much larger facilities once provided thoroughbred racing followers with nine tracks where pari-mutuel betting was lawful.

Pimlico and Laurel were the dominant forces, located near the state’s larger cities as well as Washington, D.C. Bowie and Marlboro had enough racing dates to maintain a viable presence.

Then came the smaller tracks that were stocked with fair dates.

Timonium was and still is the site of the state fair. It was given racing dates. Cumberland had about three weeks of racing from the late 1930s to the early 1960s. Harve de Grace raced under similar circumstances. Bel Air was kept alive for about the same number of years.

The Hagerstown Fairgrounds opened its racing doors in 1929, and was maintained on the fair circuit until closing day on Oct. 3, 1970.

Sprinters from the lowest claiming ranks were the grist of Hagerstown’s 18 afternoons of flat racing. The annual meet began by Sept. 8 and closed by the end of September, except in its final year of operation.

A crowd of 12,126 shoe-horned its way into the open-air facility on Aug. 28, 1954, standing everywhere on the grounds because the grandstand held 4,800 and the clubhouse, with its dining room, had room for another 900 patrons.

There was stable room for 800 thoroughbreds. Tight turns caused by the five-eighths mile racing surface usually made for most entries going after the lead from any race’s outset.

Patrons were brought to the track by Trailways buses that began their routes in Laurel and Silver Spring, Maryland. The buses left for home 15 minutes after the last race was run.

Hagerstown lasted 41 years before its dates were spirited away and awarded to the largest and longer tracks nearer the larger cities.

Well-known jockeys Jesse Davidson and Phil Grove plied their trade at Hagerstown, as well as at Charles Town and Shenandoah Downs in Jefferson County.

The grandstand and clubhouse are still standing guard over the softball fields and walking trails that occupy much of the space where the thoroughbreds once bolted from the starting gate in 3.5 furlong sprints. The Maryland Fair Racing Circuit is long gone, but Pimlico still has the Preakness Stakes, and Laurel remains open for a few racing dates.

Maryland racing has seen its heyday disappear into the mirrors of yesterday. But the state hasn’t lost racing altogether.