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Today is 50th anniversary of pari-mutuel wagering on Pennsylvania horse racing
Friday, June 07, 2013 - by Jerry Connors, for the Keystone Chapter of the United States Harness Writers Association

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Harrisburg, PA --- On June 7, 1963 (50 years ago today) the pari-mutuel era for Standardbred/Thoroughbred racing began in Pennsylvania.

Wagering on equines in the Keystone State began on this date with the harness set at northeast Philadelphia's Liberty Bell Park, which would win awards for its striking architecture, complete with All-American red/white/blue awnings.

The first win bets from a crowd of 10,000 were cashed on a horse named Majesty's Knight, and the track's first 2:00 mile (one dare not say "state's," with Dan Patch drawing 90,000 at the Allentown Fair and other top horses appearing on the local fair circuit) went to Overtrick, that year's champion 3-year-old pacer, who beat his 1:59.3 mile on opening night with a 1:57.3 world record clocking later in the meet.

Three weeks later, betting on trotters and pacers debuted at The Meadows, a longtime dream of Hall of Famer Delvin Miller and near his farm in southwestern Pennsylvania. Despite inclement weather, 7,500 improvers of the breed turned out to see the debut of the new "Tartan" all-weather track surface. The Meadows is still going strong, and doubtless you will be hearing more about its Anniversary Week, including a huge 50th anniversary celebration on June 28, in the days to come.

Pocono Downs would soon debut in northeast Pennsylvania, and is conducting its 47th campaign during 2013.

Other harness tracks in Pennsylvania include the Harrah's operation just south of Philadelphia, debuting just after the slot law in 2006 as Harrah's Chester and now known as Harrah's Philadelphia; and Lake Shore Meadows, the banner under which Meadows officials conducted some mid-1980s dates at the Commodore Downs/Erie Downs oval near Erie, which was built for Thoroughbreds.

Finishing Lines: Thoroughbred racing made its Pennsylvania debut in 1968 at Liberty Bell, which was designed with a mile dirt oval constructed around the five-eighths-mile harness track but sharing a common stretch (partially in hope of luring the Hambletonian East); the runners raced there until Keystone, built crucially just on the other side of the Philadelphia/Bucks County line, bowed in 1974. Penn National, just outside Harrisburg, was the first Thoroughbred-built track in the state, bowing in 1972. Gallopers have also appeared at the above-mentioned Commodore/Erie, at Pocono, and briefly at The Meadows (as Pitt Park).

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