Jerome Park Racetrack – Circa 1868
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“The opening of the Central Park saved horse riding in New York,” said an old jockey. Few who know the truth will gainsay this assertion. The opening of Jerome Park did as much for horses by rescuing the sport of horse racing from the blackguards and thieves, into whose hands it had fallen, and placing it upon a respectable footing.
The Jerome Park Race Course owes its existence to Mr. Leonard W. Jerome, after whom it was named. The way in which it came into existence at all, was as follows: “The trains of the New York and New Haven Railroad enter the Metropolis upon the Harlem track. Justified by highly satisfactory reasons, the management of the Company decided to secure a different means of ingress to the city, and a tacit agreement was made with Leonard W. Jerome to the effect that if he would secure the right of way from the proper terminus of the New Haven Road clear through to New York, they would change their route. The firm at once bought all the land they could find along a strip of nine miles through Westchester County, up what is known as the Saw-Mill River Valley. Some portion of their purchase cost them at the rate of $300 an acre. Meanwhile Commodore Vanderbilt got news of the movement, bought largely of the New Haven stock, and at the succeeding election of directors was able to make such changes in the board as effectually stopped the change of base from the Harlem Line. The contract on which Jerome had acted was not in such a form as admitted of litigation. He had acquired an immense amount of real estate with no prospect of immediate realizations. Then came the idea of the race-course. Not less p. 676than $100,000 was cleared as net profit from that expedient. Another portion of the land was sold as a cemetery. But Jerome has the greater part of the property still on his hands.”
The race-course is the property of the American Jockey Club, and the Spring and Fall Meetings of that association are held there, and are attended by large and fashionable crowds. The Club House and Club Stand occupy the most retired and elevated portion of the grounds, but the best point of view is the Grand Stand, in front of which is the usual starting point and winning post. The price of admission is high, but the grounds are thronged with vehicles and persons on foot. As many as ten or fifteen thousand persons may be seen within the enclosure, while the favorable positions outside of the grounds are black with more economical spectators. The crowd is orderly and good-humored, and the occasion is rarely marred by any act of rowdyism or lawlessness.
A great deal of money changes hands at the races. Bets are freely offered and taken on the various horses. The pools sell rapidly, and the genial auctioneer finds his post no sinecure. The struggles of the noble animals are watched with the deepest interest. The greatest excitement prevails amongst the élite in the private stands, as well as throughout the common herd below. Every eye is strained to watch the swift coursers as they whirl down the track, and when the quarter stretch is gained the excitement is beyond control. The victor steed flashes with lightning speed by the winning post amidst a storm of cheers and yells of delight.
The course is still new, but the system which it has inaugurated is becoming more thorough every year. The management is in the hands of gentlemen of character, who are seeking to make at least one place in the country where the blackguards and reckless gamblers who disgrace the American turf shall be powerless to control affairs. The benefits of this management will be very great. The stock of the State will be vastly improved, and the metropolis, especially, will be able to boast some of the finest blooded racers in the world.
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