The Graw

by Ed Meyer

posted on September 23, 2009 in General Discussion | No Comments >>

In Hartford County, Maryland, there was a sweet little oval owned by the Hartford Agricultural and Breeders Association and a notorious gambler, Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein. This was a good time, and lasted from 1912 – 1950.

The ownership was interesting to say the least. Rothstein, a New York businessman and gambler, was the brainchild behind fixing the 1919 World Series. He has inspired other characters over the years. “Meyer Wolfsheim” in the The Great Gatsby, “Hyman Roth” in The Godfather Part II, and “Nathan Detroit” in Guys and Dolls. A perfect fit for a track owner…..

In 1929, the great Man o’ War won the Potomac Handicap. His son, War Admiral, won his first race there on April 25, 1936. The Havre de Grace Handicap was home to many Hall of Fame inductees: Roamer, Crusader, Seabiscuit, Sun Beau, Equipoise, and Challedon. In 1919, Cudgel beat two Hall of Famers in the form of Exterminator, and Triple Crown champion, Sir Barton. This one mile oval was a race course. It was located between the cities of Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

By 1949, the track began losing customers and was forced to turn over their allotted racing days to Baltimore’s Pimlico Race Course. InĀ 1951, the track was sold to Alfred G. Vanderbilt II, owner of Pimlico Race Course, and Morris Schapiro of Laurel Park.

According to Sports Illustrated, this is the place where Man o’ War ran his greatest race. In 1920, Riddle’s Big Red carried the heaviest weight he ever had to carry (138 lbs), and ran away in the Potomac Handicap and set a new track record.

Racegoers could enjoy the modern conveniences, such as electrified tote boards and public address systems. They could wander down to the Susquehanna and watch some of the greats of the time. The grandstand started taking wear and tear, compared to other locations. It was in 1947, that Citation ran and won his first career race. But, Delaware Park and Garden State Park were beginning to draw customers away.

The track was first introduced to me by a few “old time” track managers. They had told me glory stories they had witnessed, and those passed down to them. But the overall theme years ago was that if we don’t watch our sport, it will definitely head this way. In their opinion, they felt it could have been saved by a cooperative effort between tracks of the time. Pretty much the same as now…..Greed and shortcuts will kill our sport one by one. Just think of the tracks that are falling by the wayside to become condos or strip malls.