Shenandoah Downs marketed its night racing and ambiance
SHEPHERDSTOWN – Thoroughbreds at night. The “Pick 6,” which became the “Twin Double.” Enjoying racing under the stars while dining in elegance in the Starlight Terrace Restaurant. Holiday doubleheaders. Valet parking. Clubhouse seating and the Tri-State Futurity.
Such was Shenandoah Downs, a thoroughbred race track of just five furlongs in length, that also marketed its 3.5 furlong sprints and snug proximity to both Baltimore and Washington, D.C., as foremost reasons to come to the outside limits of Charles Town for fun and potential riches.
Charles Town Race Course had opened in the chill of Dec. 1933. Shenandoah Downs, only minutes away and across the street, opened in the spring of 1959. The two entities existed alongside each other for 20 years.
A fountain gushed its lighted waters in the infield at Shenandoah Downs. The Starlight Terrace had room for 800 diners. It was nightlife in thoroughbred racing when even the well-known Eastern tracks offered only daytime races.
When a July 4 or Labor Day doubleheader was held in the daylight hours, trains ran to the track from the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. areas. The Potomac Bus Line brought would-be betters in from Hagerstown.
By 1968, the Tri-State Futurity had a purse of $25,000 for its six furlongs of furious action.
Shenandoah Downs would hold its lengthy meet and then close for a time. Charles Town would begin a meet with the same machines and most of the same workers, state-appointed personnel and administrators that were in place at Shenandoah Downs.
Charles Town would close and Shenandoah Downs would re-open, holding its first winter meet in 1963.
At that time, race programs sold for 25 cents, and the jockey/trainer statistics showed the patrons in 1968 that Larry Hunt, Dallas Hedge, Ron Witmer and Angelo Vasil had ridden the most winners and James Palmer, Bobby Hilton, Glenn Price and Charles Walker had saddled the most winners as trainers.
Bob Leavitt was the General Manager and Director of Racing, with Dick Woolley serving as the track announcer. Bill McDonald was the Director Publicity and Costy Caras was a patrol judge, before later becoming the track announcer.
By the 1970s, competition from other forms of entertainment was eroding the crowds and the money wagered.
On Jan. 24, 1975, the track closed. But on Dec. 27, 1977, it was re-opened for another try at making thoroughbred racing an event to be remembered, with a soft, whimsical smile and a money-filled wallet or purse.
Not enough people came back to the prime rib of the Starlight Terrace or the Twin Double, so the track closed for good on Jan. 3, 1979.
The racing surface itself continued to be used to train the thoroughbreds, but the grandstand, buildings on the grounds and the infield structures slowly deteriorated and the once-populated grandstand was finally razed in 2006.