REMEMBERING MILES PARK AND LOUISVILLE DOWNS

Many racetracks have come and gone over the history of the United States. Two from my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, come to mind. The first was a Thoroughbred track called Miles Park and the second was a Standardbred track named Louisville Downs.

In 1956, the then-new and relocated Kentucky State Fairgrounds was opened at its current site near Louisville International Airport (Standiford Field). It replaced the old Kentucky State Fairgrounds in Louisville’s West End. In June 1956, Fairgrounds Speedway opened at the old State Fairgrounds as a short-lived venue for harness racing. Then, in June 1958, the racetrack was renamed Miles Park and became a place for Thoroughbred racing.

Miles Park always operated in the shadow of Louisville-based Churchill Downs, with its Kentucky Derby. Miles Park was nothing more than a claiming-race specialist, but nonetheless attracted some well-known jockeys, either on their way up or down.

In May 1964, tragedy struck when a barn fire took the lives of 26 horses. Miles Park had a name change to Commonwealth Race Course in June of 1974, but the end of Thoroughbred racing was near, in February 1975. The racetrack was dormant until September of 1977, when quarter horse racing was tried. In June 1978, the grandstand was destroyed by another fire and that was the end of racing at the old Kentucky State Fairgrounds.

My memories of Miles Park are somewhat vague after all this time, but I do recall traveling to the racetrack with the state veterinarian, Dr. Lawrence J. Scanlan, who was a friend, and betting on races according to the vet’s assessment of how the horses looked in the paddock and warming up. This was a wholly unsatisfactory method and a monetary loser. More adept handicapping could have been done by selecting horses to bet on using random numbers.

I recall being able to talk, up close and personal, with many of the people who worked at Miles Park, most notably trainers and jockeys, such as jockeys Lonnie Abshire and Earlie Fires and trainers Gilbert Phillips and E. B. Turner. One of the Miles Park officials, Edwin Davis, was the brother of a prominent television actor of the day, Roger Davis.

At Miles Park, someone was always willing to provide you with a tip on a “sure winner” that usually did not turn out that way.

Louisville Downs was opened in 1966 by William King, who had few peers as a promoter. The late Stan Bergstein of Harness Tracks of America told me he vividly recalled being at the track’s opening night of racing and how spectacular it was.

Louisville Downs presented harness racing until 1991, when it closed. Today, the Louisville Downs site is owned by Churchill Downs and is used as a training center and occasionally as a simulcasting facility.

William King’s half-mile harness track was an inviting place to spend a warm summer night, with some decent harness racing and a clean physical environment. The Louisville area (and Kentucky) is Thoroughbred-oriented and harness racing at Louisville Downs was always a stepsister to the runners at Churchill Downs, only five miles away.

Miles Park and Louisville Downs were minor league racetracks that nonetheless have a special place in my memory bank. What can you say about a racetrack like Miles Park, where in 1974 the stewards certified the wrong horse as a winner of a race? Some might charge that the fix was in, but if you knew Miles Park, you would be just as likely to attribute the mistake to bumbling at a sleepy haven for low-level racing and unforgettable characters from a time long gone by.

Copyright © 2013 Horse Racing Business

Comments

  1. Miles Park brings back a lot of thoughts from the past. I ran horses there for several years and was sad to see the old track go.

  2. I remember Louisville Downs very well. Everything was red and white and very well kept.
    My father co-owned a stable of horse that raced there at least two years in the summer time. I was about 12 years old and have fond memories of caring for the horses, the track kitchen (which had excellent chocolate cake) and the “big house on the hill” which served as the racing secretary’s office. Robin Burns was the track announcer. Fond memories!

  3. watched t.v program on old fair grounds at Cecil Ave. funny thing is that they never spoke about Miles Park!

  4. Kathleen says:

    I spent many, many nights (mainly in the summers) going with my Father to Louisville Downs or Miles Park in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. I have many wonderful memories of both places and meeting lots of wonderful people there!

  5. Willie Chauncey says:

    I worked with Seymour Stables , (driver/trainer Fred Parks) , late 1966 -May 1968. I was drafted, went to Vietnam . And when I returned, went to Deleon Springs, Fred offered my old position back. But I had made up my mind to go to school. That was early Jan. 1970. In March He sent (Gorden Lashway) one of the older guys I had worked with. He and Allen Shadduck were great and honorable gentlemen, that took a liking to very naive (to the ways of the world) and young man whom they seemed to delight in teaching me all they knew about Race Horses.
    When Gorden’s truck pulled up in front of my House, in Jax. ,Fl. I didn’t know what to think. Fred had sent him to persuade me to come to Philly , Pa. To help Him ( Fred knew I started to school in April ) He had one of the crew quit and needed some help until He could get another Groom. I agreed, I packed up and went with Gorden , until we met the Horse Van at a Truck stop in S. Carolina. Where I rode the rest of the way. Gorden went another route so as to visit relatives in Va. I believe .
    I never went to the Harness tracks in Ky. But remember Fred saying he would like to go check them out. Although He was a diehard eastern circuit Driver.
    True to his word Fred bought me a train ticket home. And took me to the train station. He had spent most of that month trying to talk me into staying. I surely had thoughts of staying on. But had promised myself I’d try to go back to school.
    I lost communication with them , and I learned (December) from an old friend/coworker, that Fred had died in May of 1970. Less than 2 months after I left. RIP Fred. I hope you’re driving a Golden Sulky.
    I Lost all contact with the Harness world . Special thanks to Joe Hylan. Frank & Jackie Lowe. W/ J. R. Rick Stables.
    Joe who gave me my first grooming job. And Frank Lowe whom had tried to teach a farm boy how to be a Horseman, before passing that torch on to Fred Parks.
    In 2001 , I was passing through a Town in Ga., Hawkinsville . Where I ran into Charley Martin jr. He had wintered his horses there. He and His wife , told me that mrs. Parks had died also. Charley had remembered me. But didn’t know what had happened to Gorden or Chad.
    Fond memories of those days.
    Stanley Dancer , Herve Fillion, & Charlie Fitzpatrick to name a few other trainer drivers.

    Don’t know if any are still around.

  6. I remember spending many summer afternoons in the early 1960’s at Miles Park. One of my friends jokingly referred to it as Mules Park. You mentioned “the fix”. That brings to mind a story. It was the last race of the afternoon on one long ago Saturday afternoon. I bet on a horse by the name of Shooting Dog. I watched the race from a position close to the finish line and saw a horse by the name of French Express win by at least a neck over Shooting Dog. The photo sign went up. Several minutes later Shooting Dog was proclaimed the winner of the photo. The crowd stood in stunned silence for about 10 seconds. All of a sudden someone started booing. Very quickly the whole crowd was booing. A hard copy photo was posted which agreed with the “official” result. The crowd was still booing after I cashed my ticket for $5.00 and left. Does anyone else remember this incident?

  7. Miles park is where my mom and dad met.My grandma worked admissions and my mom would go to the races with her cousin all the time and my dad was asst. starter and he would try and talk to her all the time but she wouldnt even tell him her name.they were married in 1967.I think that was the year my uncle T-Red Bernis was leading jockey there.Does anybody remember anything about an elephant race maybe in 77′

  8. Admission was one silver dollar deposited to click open the turnstile. Saving those silver dollars would have been a much better bet.

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