Goshen, NY --- Roosevelt Raceway, the most important harness racetrack and entertainment venue in New York between 1940 and 1988, is the subject of a new photographic essay and exhibit by the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame.
The exhibit “Remember Roosevelt!” is now open in the Museum’s main gallery and the book, Roosevelt Raceway, the Legacy & the Dream, Where it All Began, is available through the Museum’s gift shop. Visit the Museum’s Goshen, N.Y., store or shop online at www.harnessmuseum.com.
Despite its proximity to the urban populace of New York City, Roosevelt Raceway, in Westbury, Long Island, struggled during its early years dominated by World War II with fuel rationing, blackout rules and small crowds. But late in the decade the track, which was established on the site of the defunct Vanderbilt Cup auto racing track, began to turn a profit.
At war's end Roosevelt Raceway was positioned to reap the benefits of a large population ready to celebrate. Soon capacity crowds were taxing the limits of the old wooden grandstand, prompting the $20 million trotting palace created by the track’s founder, George Morton Levy, in 1957.
Considered harness racing’s lost jewel, night racing, the mobile starting gate, air conditioning and closed-circuit television were all innovations showcased by the “Dream Track.” Nightly crowds of 20,000 and more were standard fare for Roosevelt through the 1960s but in the 1970s with the introduction of Off-Track Betting and competition from other entertainment sites, attendance began to dwindle. By 1980 attendance averaged only 9,000 fans a night. The final race over the iconic oval took place on June 15, 1988, won by Majestic Andrew, driven by Rejean Daigneault.
Although some among the Westbury and harness racing communities foresaw the end of the Roosevelt era, with the value of the property the track occupied outstripping racing revenue, the closing of the track so many fans and horsemen called home came as a great shock and a source of disappointment that continues to be felt by those who were lucky enough to have been a part of the “Dream.”
The hum that once emanated from Roosevelt’s enormous crowds, however, has not been lost. Thousands of photographs created by the raceway’s press office document the great racing, celebrity sightings, and excitement that drew so many to the track. Twenty-six filing drawers of these priceless images were rescued from the raceway prior to its final demolition in 2000 by the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame. With the aid of grant funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, supported by Governor Andrew Cuomo, and the generosity of individual donors to the Roosevelt Raceway Legacy Project, the meticulous work of preserving and documenting this photographic treasure trove is complete and the Museum has readied a beautiful exhibit and publication for everyone to enjoy.
The closing of Roosevelt Raceway was a tremendous loss to the sport of harness racing; the loss of its history would have been devastating. The images published within this volume are just a small example of those preserved by the project. They bring to life the exuberant fans, elegant social events, superb racing and dynamic sporting drama that were the hallmarks of the track.
Now, thanks to the dedicated support of the projects donors, Roosevelt Raceway will be remembered for generations to come at the Harness Racing Museum & Hall of Fame.
Visit the museum, just 60 miles north of New York City, at 240 Main Street in Goshen, N.Y. Open daily 10 a.m.-- 5 p.m., admission, thanks to the USTA, is without charge. Please call 845.294.6330 for more information or visitwww.harnessmuseum.com.
From the Harness Racing Museum