Belmont Park Americas Model Track: Expansive Westchester Plant Stands Out in Many Respects; Jerome, Morris Parks Once Maintained True Tradition Of Famous New York Courses, Daily Racing Form, 1953-06-13


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Belmont Park Americas Model Track Expansive Westchester Plant Stands Out in Many Respects Jerome Morris Parks Once Maintained True Tradition Of Famous New YorkCourses YorkCoursesBy By EVAN SHIPMAN SHIPMANBELMONT BELMONT PARK Elmont N Y June 12 Because of the restless expansion of our cities the life span of American race tracks is likely to be short Secure in dis ¬ tant suburbs when they open their gates track after track has fallen victim to urban encroachment and the history of the American turf is replete with the names of longvanished associations now only the dimmest of memories but once the gather ¬ ing places of fashion and the backgrounds for the competition of our greatest thor ¬ oughbreds oughbredsNo No section is richer in nostalgic recollec ¬ tions of once famous courses than the im ¬ mediate vicinity of New York City Before the Civil War that broad and distinct line of demarcation between ancient and modern local tracks may have been thronged with an eager public but they were invariably rough and uncouth in com ¬ parison with the elaborate luxurious tracks that succeeded one another at about quar ¬ tercentury intervals after the close of hos ¬ tilities tilitiesJerome Jerome Park Morris Park and finally beautiful Belmont each was the sensa ¬ tion of its day but while the first two tracks survive only as the subject for anti ¬ quarian footnotes Belmont continues to be as it was a half century ago for the in ¬ augural meeting Americas model race track and one of which the sport may well be proud proudJerome Jerome Located in Fordham FordhamJerome Jerome Park was located on the old Bathgate Estate in Fordham Morris Park was not far distant in the Bronx The line of heritage from those two old tracks to Belmont Park is clear the same names and particularly the same family names being prominent among the founders of each The change in location from whak was then Westchester County to Long Is ¬ land was in accord with a shift of fashion the condemnation by the city of Morris Park and the breaking ground for Belmont taking place around the turn of the cen ¬ tury when Long Island was fast surplant ing the lower Hudson as a locale for pre ¬ tentious country estates estatesMorris Morris Park first felt the threat of the expanding city in 1895 but there was a brief reprieve and the newlyorganized Westchester Racing Association headed by August Belmont James R Keene and F K Sturgis took a lease on the property giving their initial meeting at the old track in the fall of 1895 the spring meeting hav ¬ ing been cancelled because of adverse legis ¬ lative enactments enactmentsProperty Property Purchased in 1904 1904Major Major Belmont and his associates were quite aware that their tenancy of Morris Park could not be of long duration In 1904 the property now known as Belmont Park was purchased at Queens Long Island and a mammoth plant was laid out N The late Walter S Vosburgh long secre ¬ tary and handicapper for The Jockey Club and the great historian of the middle period of American racing said of Bel ¬ mont Park ParkIt It was by far the most extensive rac ¬ ing property that had been opened cover ¬ ing 650 acres with a race course an oval circuit of one and a half miles a straight course of seven furlongs and a training track of a mile circuit Following English precedent the races were run the reverse way that is with the inside rail on the right hand instead of on the left hand as all other American race courses were built The grandstand was an enormous struc ¬ ture 650 feet in length with a capacity for seating 9000 persons with the unusual feature of the roof being made available for spectators a feature common in Eng ¬ land but hitherto deemed undesirable in America owing to its entailing exposure to the sun The clubhouse a substantial structure afforded a fine view of the rac ¬ ing and was furnished with dining rooms bed rooms and balconies and was con ¬ nected to the grandstand by a bridge bridgeThe The saddling paddock was the most beautiful seen anywhere in this country Stately oak and chestnut trees shaded the ground where the horses were put through their toilets and where the ladies and gentlemen could roam about and inspect the candidates for the great events Be ¬ yond the paddock was the quarters of the Turf and Field Club with its quaint but beautiful old mansion of the Manice family embowered in woods and shrubbery ren ¬ dering it an abode fit for Juno and her peacocks as an enthusiastic lover of na ¬ ture described it itMorris Morris Park gave its last meeting during Continued on Page FortySeven I vr Vrf Vrfv1 v1 itiV VjJVi New VjJViNew York Sectidil Rich in Tradition TraditionJerome Jerome Morris Parks Each Sensation of Day but Must Bow to Big Westchester Plant PlantContinued Continued from Page Six Sixthat that season of 94 and the next spring the Westchester Racing Association moved to its new quarters on Long Island Belmont Park opening its gates to the public for the first time on May 4 1905 with the Metro ¬ politan Handicap transplanted from Jerome and Morris Parks as feature race of the inaugural program It was a thor ¬ oughly auspicious occasion that Metro politan more than satisfying the crowd when the great Sysonby ran a dead heat with the lightlyweighted gelding Race land landAll All the great sweepstakes which had originated at Jerome Park or later at Morris Park and with the march of time had become classics were transferred to Belmont Park the Withers Belmont Jerome Ladies Juvenile Nursery Cham ¬ pagne Toboggan and Metropolitan all found a new home and gathered added fame Then came legislation that affected racing not only in the State of New York but over the entire country and in 191112 it was found inexpedient to race The 0 passage of the HartAgnew bill closed the gates of Belmont for those two seasons seasonsEven Even during that period of blight racing did continue on the Belmont property Beyond the Hempstead Turnpike 200 of Belmonts 650 acres were known as the United Hunts ground There was a course for steeplechase and hurdle horses there as well as a grass course on the flat all of this quite distinct from the main track On this smaller division of the Belmont property the United Hunts gave meetings that kept the sport alive in this area earn ¬ ing the gratitude of all American horse men by fidelity to traditions that had been flouted in Albany AlbanyThanks Thanks to a technicality concerning oral betting established at the United Hunts meetings racing was revived at Bel mont and elsewhere in New York State in 1913 When the horses appeared on the track for the first race of the day the people broke forth in ringing cheers The band played Auld Lang Syne the crowd joining in with singing It was an aus ¬ picious occasion because from then on the sport continued uninterrupted at Bel ¬ mont with an ever increasing popular appeal appealSwept Swept by Fire In 1917 1917In In April 1917 the grandstand and many of the buildings were swept by fire The result was a complete wreck and it seemed impossible that the grandstand could be restored for the opening that season set for Decoration Day Yet in the seven weeks intervening the grandstand was re paired and the race meeting held It was only a temporary measure but in 1919 fur ¬ ther repairs were made but not enough to restore Belmonts original seating capacity Because of the great success of both the spring and fall meetings the Westchester Racing Association decided to rebuild the grandstand in 1920 and it was in this year too that the direction of the races wasi changed to conform to the general Ameri can practice of racing counterclockwise The old field stand was removed and added to the grandstand making the en ¬ tire structure 950 feet in length and in ¬ creasing the seating capacity to 17500 The seating was brought forward closer to the track and a promenade was added to the rear of the stand and a mezzanine floor also The old clubhouse was rendered useless by the change of the finish line and this building has served ever since as a storage place for the track and for the catering firm of Stevelis Brothers BrothersRetained Retained Title Until His Death DeathAlthough Although August Belmont retained the title of president of the Westchester Rac ing Association until his death in 1924 the founder was no longer active in the associations affairs at the time of the fire and the subsequent renovations These were conducted under the supervision of the late Harry Payne Whitney and the late Joseph E Widener the latter to succeed Major Belmont in the presidency and dur ¬ ing his tenure to stamp the grounds of this magnificent course with his personal ¬ ity and taste to almost the same degree as had its founder Because of long association with the French turf Widener retained vivid memo ries of the beauties of Longchamp in the Bois de Boulogne and he instituted the extensive planting at Belmont Park that now makes the Long Island course a worthy rival to the great Parisian track The lovely borders change with the sea ¬ sons the flowers supplied from the asso ¬ ciations two hothouses back in the stable area Hedges are clipped and vast spaces of lawn are immaculate while the shade trees native and exotic are pruned and tended with the greatest care careWidener Widener found Belmont a great track but when because of ill health he was forced to retire in 1938 he left it to his successor Alfred G Vanderbilt a lovely garden as well Vanderbilt in turn was succeeded by George D Widener nephew of the second president but under both regimes all the earlier traditions have been upheld Truly in Vosburghs words Belmont is a revelation and the most magnificent racing property in America That tribute is as fitting today as it was when penned a quarter of a century ago In a country where so much energy is de ¬ voted to change Belmont stands proudly apart as a monument to tradition

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