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Ghost Tracks VII: Green Mountain Park
Tuesday, March 24, 2015 - Tim Bojarski

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Saratoga, N.Y., has one of the richest horse racing histories of any area in North America. With the Saratoga Race Course running each summer since 1863 and Saratoga Raceway hosting nighttime harness racing for the past 74 years, millions of racegoers have traveled to that area to root for their favorite horses. 

 

But 55 miles to the southeast was another racing venue that tried to capitalize on grabbing the attention of some of that traffic and created a niche for itself among some of those fans as well as the locals who lived nearby. 


 
Photo courtesy of author
Aerial view of Green Mountain Park

 That track was Green Mountain Park in Pownal, Vermont.


Set on 144 acres just off Route 7, Green Mountain Park was built at a cost of $6 million and opened on May 24, 1965, to a crowd of 4,000 fans. It started as a Thoroughbred track, transitioned to harness racing and then hosted greyhounds before it was all done. In fact one year (1975) it held meets for all three breeds.


The Thoroughbred track was 13/16ths of a mile with a 5/8ths mile harness track constructed inside of it. The front and back stretch was shared by both tracks. Later, the dog track was built inside the front stretch of the main track, right in front of the grandstand. 


Their schedule started with daytime racing and quickly transitioned to twilight posts. Eventually races were contested strictly at night. Less than favorable crowds in the afternoon were the reason the start got pushed back twice until it finally went under the lights.


Their original idea was to draw horses there after the Saratoga flats meet ended, but that never happened. The quality of horses that ended up competing there was never great and it quickly became a second-tier oval.


 Harness racing started there on April 4, 1964. The track was billed as “America’s newest, ultra-modern racetrack” and boasted a rooftop restaurant. The grandstand, clubhouse and apron had a total capacity of 25,000 people and the parking lots could hold 11,000 cars. 


For the horsemen there were 800 stalls and the track was constructed 90 feet wide including the turns. Don D’Andrea was the first race secretary there. 


One interesting fact about Green Mountain was that in 1968, it became the very first track on the East Coast to hold Sunday racing. That opened the door to having one of the greatest drivers of all time call that place home once a week and provide memories that many people still talk about. Herve Filion was a fixture at the little track on Sundays and everyone came out to watch him try to “sweep the card” each week. 


 
Drivers line their horses up to start the race as fans watch from the grandstand.

On Dec. 15, 1972, the five sons of Art Rooney (Daniel, Arthur, Timothy, Patrick and John) purchased Green Mountain Racetrack for $8.58 million. At that point the family already owned several other racetracks including Yonkers Raceway, Liberty Bell Park and the Palm Beach Kennel Club, and was looking to add the strategically located oval to their portfolio. 


Art Rooney, who was a pioneer and legend of the National Football League, did not think buying this track was a particularly good idea. He thought the purchase price was too high and reportedly commented “This place has more cows than it does people." 

 

The sale was completed anyway and the Rooneys made many improvements to the plant; however, their best-laid plans did not pan out. 


In 1977 a Lewiston (Maine) Evening Journal newspaper article reported that the Green Mountain track was losing a lot money and had just ended a “terrible” meet. Tim Rooney was quoted as saying “We lost a substantial amount of money up there and you just can’t continue to throw away good money.” 


Eventually the Rooneys did sell the track, as did several other subsequent owners after them. One transaction’s price was a reported rock-bottom sum of $250,000.


Thoroughbred racing ended there in 1975 and harness racing followed in 1976, leaving the track to literally “go to the dogs." The greyhound track which was built in 1975 was the only thing left operational until the track finally went out of business in 1992. 


The track that one time employed 700 people now sits derelict among a plethora of crumbling barns and out buildings. Although the racing surface is overgrown and the grandstand has been vacant for years, they still exist and remain a visible memory of the past. And with little chance that pari-mutuel racing will ever return to Vermont, their days are certainly numbered. 


Today, the adjoining property is a working solar farm known as the Southern Vermont Energy Park. 


A group of students from Williams College in Massachusetts did an interesting study in 2011 regarding the repurposing if the site of the former racetrack. You can read that report by clicking here.


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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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