Longacres racetrack opens in Renton on August 3, 1933.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 7/26/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7394
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On August 3, 1933, Longacres racetrack opens in Renton. The track, constructed in only 28 days by throngs of workers slammed by Great Depression joblessness and therefore willing to work longs hours when the chance presents, is designed by Seattle architect B. Marcus Priteca (1889-1971). Founder Joseph Gottstein (1891-1971) is hailed a hero by Washingtonians eager to enjoy the Sport of Kings, which has been absent in the state since a gambling ban in1909.

Joseph Gottstein and his business associate William Edris lobbied the state Legislature to legalize pari-mutuel betting from 1922 on. (Pari-mutuel betting is a system whereby the winners divide the total amount bet, after deducting management expenses, in proportion to the sums they have wagered individually.) In February 1933 their efforts were rewarded and on March 13, 1933, Governor Clarence Martin signed House Bill 59 into law. On June 20, 1933, the Washington Jockey Club (founded by Gottstein, Edris, Pritteca, and several others) was issued a permit to own and operate a one-mile track. Gottstein and Edris took a 10-year lease on a former dairy farm in the Renton valley. The soil composition, fine alluvial glacial till over clay, would prove to be a perfect surface for the incipient thundering hooves of the thoroughbred horses that would race the track.

The Seattle newspapers were filled with anticipation in the days leading up to the Longacres opening day. On August 2, 1933, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran an artist's sketch of the Seattle-to-Renton route with a racing oval looming large and labeled "Longacres Race Track" in bold black print. The caption read, "HOW TO GET THERE -- This artist's sketch will enable you to reach the Longacres track, where horse racing makes its bow to Seattle enthusiasts at 2 p.m. tomorrow." Above the map ran a photograph of a photo finish at an unidentified track with the caption "Similar thrills await at Longacres track." The accompanying article gushed, "Local turf enthusiasts, with appetites whetted by years of compulsory abstinence, will soon thrill again to the pounding of flying hoofs in 'their own back yard'" ("Fast Field To Offer Thrills at Longacres").

Newspaper accounts of the number of thoroughbred horses streaming into the newly constructed stalls at Longacres varied widely, from 200 to more than 500. Human thoroughbreds streamed in as well: under the heading  "Noted Horse People Here For Meeting," the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stated "Social, industrial, and financial lights of the great Northwest were to be seen throughout the racetrack, with the clubhouse veranda and the terrace a symphony of color" (August 4, 1933).

Eight races were planned for the opening day. Governor Clarence Martin, whose support for the reinstitution of legalized gambling in the state was dubious, but who took a pragmatic attitude toward the potential revenue for increasingly anemic state coffers, was there to watch at post time as the horses lined the Bahr starting gate. Bahr gates, which kept each horse in a separate stall, were newly developed and represented Longacres' state-of-the-art equipment.

The crowd, estimated at 11,000, paid $1.10 each for a place in the stands. The weather was sunny, affording fans a full view of Mt. Rainier. The first race was a claiming event for two-year-olds carrying the track's minimum purse of $400. Vetsera, ridden by jockey Herbert "Little Nell" Simmons, won the five-and-a-half furlong event.

The fourth race was limited to Washington-bred horses. The thoroughbred horse-breeding industry in Washington was at the time in its infancy, hampered by years without a state racing industry for which to breed. Encouraging this industry was one of Joseph Gottstein's stated aims and was also a goal of the state racing commission. As required by the state racing commission, every race day at Longacres included at least one race limited to horses bred in Washington state. Paved Way was the winner of the Washington-bred only race on opening day.

The highlight of the day was an inaugural handicap of six furloughs for three-year-olds and upward. The purse was $1,000. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer stated, "Competing in this event will be many widely known horses, including the following: Flagtime, owned by J. D. Spreckels, California millionaire; Coalizer, owned by Thomas Fortune Ryan; Onrush, from the Pasadena stable; Bonnie Grafton, running for the Meadowbrook Stable; Beeson, sporting the McGinn Estate racing silks; Heue, flaunting the colors of C. A. Hartwell, Hawaiian sportsman" ("Fast Field To Offer Thrills at Longacres"). Onrush, under jockey Howard Gray, was the winner.

On the morning after the opening day, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer ran a photograph of Joseph Gottstein beaming widely under the headline, "He Brought The Ponies Back Here" (August 4, 1933).

The first Longacres race meet lasted 40 days, through September 17, 1933.

Sources: "Fast Field To Offer Thrills At Longacres," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 2, 1933; E.B. Fussell, "Horse-Racing Bill Signed By Gov. Martin," Ibid., March 4, 1933; "Bahr Gate Is Ready For Longacres Meet," Ibid., August 2, 1933; Joe Hernandez, "Horse Racing Starts Today At Longacres," Ibid., August 3, 1933; "Noted Horse People Here For Meeting," Ibid., August 4, 1933;  "Horse Racing. An Act relating to, providing for and authorizing" (March 3, 1933) RCW Ch.55; Bruce Batson, "Longacres: The First Ten Years" The Washington Horse, April 1983.

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