Ohio Horseracing

Horseracing has a long but controversial history in Greater Cleveland, beginning with the first settlers of the Western Reserve. Although betting on the outcome of a horse race was integral to the local sport, its association with illegal gambling and crime gave it a dubious reputation in the area.

Nevertheless, horseracing continued to thrive. When on-track betting was legalized in 1933, the State of Ohio became a partner in the enterprise by collecting taxes on the gross betting at each track, and since that time track owners and the state have had to work together to keep the industry viable.

As early as 1827, Water (W. 9th) St. was the popular site of quarter-mile horse races, and later harness racing became a popular drawing card at the Cuyahoga County fair.

The first organized harness racing meet was held by the Cleveland Jockey Club 27-31 Aug. 1850 at the Forest City course with purses ranging from $40 to $100. The Daily True Democrat decried the gambling observed at the meet and its association with the criminal element, suggesting that harness racing be discontinued permanently.

To disassociate themselves from the gaming atmosphere, several prominent Clevelanders organized the exclusive Cleveland Driving Club in 1863 and purchased a tract of land on which to race their horses.

With every track association fixing its own rules and arranging its own meets, no organization of harness racing on a broad scale seemed necessary until the 1870s, when the Central Trotting Circuit (known popularly as the Grand Circuit) was formed.

Scheduling yearly meets at its member cities, the circuit held a 7-week racing season at Glenville Racetrack with purses ranging from $2,000 to $5000, which attracted the top harness horses in the nation. The Glenville track also was the site of amateur racing sponsored by the elite Gentlemen's Driving Club, which hosted the popular inter-city matinee races there. When harness racing moved from Glenville to the distant North Randall track in 1909, its popularity began to wane and did not improve substantially until the 1950s.

Running races became popular with the betting public in the 1920s. They seemed to prefer the speed of the thoroughbred over the moderately fast gait of the trotter, encumbered by a sulky, and cheered the intense battle of both jockey and horse to reach the finish line first. The first running of the Ohio Derby, held at the Maple Heights track in 1924, was won by Black Gold. Thistledown Racetrack, established in 1925, survived the Depression to become Greater Cleveland's major running track.

Today, in spite of the challenges, horseracing continues to flourish in Ohio.

Ohio Horseracing Tracks

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Horseracing Tracks