Shenandoah Downs to be torn down

February 27, 2005|BY LARRY YANOS

Former horse racing official Frank Utterback has some fond memories of the Shenandoah Downs Racetrack.

The once revered racing oval made the news again this past week when officials with Charles Town Races & Slots announced a piece of Jefferson County racing history is headed for the wrecking ball.

The property, a short distance from Charles Town off Fifth Avenue, was one a second horse racing track that operated at the same time as the track at Charles Town.

Shenandoah Downs opened in 1959 and operated for about 16 years.

"It was a great facility," Utterback said. "The folks working there liked it and the racing fans liked it also. They came from all over the area for horse racing."


Utterback said the ownership - which owned both racing facilities - decided in the mid-1970s to race the year around at Charles Town, not Shenandoah Downs.

"For many years, they would run two meets a year at Charles Town, the other two at Shenandoah Downs," Utterback said. "They finally decided on Charles Town full time. One of the reasons, Charles Town was a bigger facility and the track was three-quarters (of a mile), compared to five-eighths. They thought the added distance would attract more shippers."

Utterback, who was a racing official for nearly 40 years before rertiring in 2003, offered a few opinions why Shenandoah Downs was so popular:

- Shenandoah Downs was one of the first racetracks in the country to offer night racing. It offered state-of-the-art lighting, a fabulous dining room, valet parking - which was new back then - and was "family friendly" for the visitors.

- The Shenandoah Downs racing surface was banked, which was better for the horses. It was also wider than Charles Town. They would run 3- and 3 1/2-furlong races there on the five-eighths track and bring in some of the finest sprinters around. The clubhouse turn got there in a hurry. It was the closest thing to quarter horse racing in the country.

- Bob Leavitt was the general manager and did a great job. He knew how to run a business.

At the time, Utterback was the racing secretary at Charles Town and Elwood Heironimus was the racing secretary at Shenandoah Downs. They switched roles at the other racetrack.

Jim Buchanan, senior vice president of government and public affairs for Penn National Gaming Inc., - which owns the track - said the giant grandstand at Shenandoah Downs and its nine horse barns probably will be torn down within a year.

The area will be graded to allow for future development.

A Grade 3 stakes-winning mare is the first to be checked in foal to 2004 Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner Smarty Jones.

Forest Heiress was checked in foal Tuesday at Stonerside Farm, manager Bobby Spaulding said in a statement released by Three Chimneys Farm in Midway, Ky., where Smarty Jones was retired in August.

Forest Heiress was bred on Feb. 10 to Smarty Jones.

Smarty Jones, trained by Charles Town, W.Va. native John Servis, was retired after it was discovered he had bone bruises in his feet. He won 8 of 9 career starts.

Pony Tales

- Friday marked 14 years since the 11th race at Charles Town was declared a no-contest because the starting gate could not be removed from the track after the race had begun.

On Feb. 25, 1990, track announcer Costy Caras warned the jockeys to pull up their mounts, and the track subsequently refunded all wagers on the race.

Ray Sibille, who rode 4,264 winners in a 35-year career before retiring in July, won the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award.

The 52-year-old Sibille was selected in voting by jockeys nationwide and will receive the award in a winner's circle ceremony at Santa Anita in March.

Sibille rode in Southern California from 1981-93, but spent most of his career in Chicago, where he won numerous riding titles. He rode Great Communicator to victory in the 1988 Breeders' Cup Turf.

The award is named for Woolf, who rode Seabiscuit and later died in a 1946 riding accident at Santa Anita. The award, which has been given annually since 1950, honors riders whose careers and personal character reflect positively on themselves and horse racing.

Other nominees were Maryland-based jockey Rick Wilson, as well as David Flores, Casey Lambert and Richard Migliore.

Earlier this month, Calvin Borel made racing history when he rode his 4,000th career winner.

A 38-year-old native of Martinsville, La., Borel became just the 45th North American jockey - and 20th active rider - to reach the 4,000-win plateau when he guided Jet Angel to a neck victory in the third race at Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, Ark.

According to statistics provided by Equibase, Borel has ridden 4,000 winners from 26,868 mounts, with 3,631 places and 3,116 shows. His mounts have earned $72 million.

Borel has been the leading rider at Oaklawn Park, Churchill Downs, Turfway Park, Louisiana Downs, Delta Downs, Ellis Park and Evangeline Downs.

Eastern-based jockeys Jorge Chavez and Richard Migliore have also joined the 4,000 club recently.

Larry Yanos is sports editor of The Daily Mail. He covers horse racing for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2311, or by e-mail at

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