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Happy birthday, Rosecroft Raceway
Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - by Tim Bojarski

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As we all took some time to remember those who served in the armed forces during Memorial Day this past weekend, there was another event to note that happened on May 27, 1949. Rosecroft Raceway opened their doors for the very first time.


Actually, opening night was the day before, when 12,000 people showed up to the new $800,000 racing plant. But due to a torrential rain right before post time, the first card was cancelled and pushed back to Friday night. When the horses reconvened to try again, 6,000 fans were there to greet them and eventually pushed $164,501 through the windows. At the time it was the second-highest total ever recorded for a night trotting track on an opening night.


William E. Miller was the founder and builder of the Maryland track that was constructed next to his Rosecroft Stock Farm. The facility was first class in every manner and soon became a popular gathering spot for the social set from Washington D.C.


The very first winner at the track was a trotter named Columbus Hanover driven by Willie Webb. He got up late to catch the favorite Billy Rosecroft to win by two lengths in the blistering time of 2:15. He paid $13.40 to win. 


The $1,000 free-for-all trot feature of the eight race card was won by Mr. Peter Mite in 2:11. Joe Hylan drove the longshot to a $31.60 win in a three-horse photo. The winner was a double-gaited performer who raced the previous year on the pace. In his selections in the local paper, track PR Director Dave Herman stated that “Mr. Peter Mite hasn’t got a chance; I got it straight from the driver. “ You’ve got to love those handicappers!


Ed Keller was the race secretary and other drivers of note included Tom Lewis, Paul Vineyard, Joe Eyler, George Brenneman and Ed Kelley.


The second night of racing hosted 8,000 fans who wagered $180,790. Del Miller shipped in from Roosevelt Raceway and made an appearance with open pacing star Atomic Bomb and took both heats of the first Rosecroft Cup. His clocking for the first mile heat was 2:07.2, which set the track record for the diagonal gait. Oddly enough the second heat was at a distance of (you guessed it) a mile and a sixteenth and the time was 2:16.3.


If you do the math (counting the first night that was cancelled) 26,000 people came to Oxen Hill during the first three nights the new track was open. It’s no wonder when you consider the amount of publicity it got in the area press. The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun both featured full page coverage in the society pages, covering the who’s-who list that was finding their way to the raceway.


There were so many horses at Rosecroft the first year the barns on the grounds could not accommodate them. So an estimated 125 horses stabled at the Marlboro thoroughbred track some 16 miles away and shipped in on race night.


In the 63 years since, the “Raceway on the Beltway” has hosted the Breeders Crown and the Messenger Stakes. It survived a fire and was transformed from a half-mile to a five-eighths oval. And after it had been shuttered for a short time, it found new life when it was purchased by Penn National Gaming. So let’s raise a glass and toast to one of the pioneers of night harness racing on the eastern seaboard.    


If you would like to learn more about the history of this venerable track,http://www.preserveharnessracingatrosecroft.com is a good site to visit.

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The views contained in this column are that of the author alone, and do not necessarily represent the opinions or views of the United States Trotting Association.

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