Madison County Historical Society

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Madison County Horse Racing

Races were mostly staged between home town horses

 
 

In The Beginning

The sport of horse racing has been around since man first began keeping records and probably before that.  Indeed, over 2,600 years ago the Egyptians, who loved chariot racing and mounted horse racing, included them in the 638 B.C. Olympic Games.  From those ancient arenas to modern race courses, it has been the Sport of Kings as well as that of the common man.

The first American horse racetrack was on New York's Long Island in 1665.  It didn't take long for the sport to spread all across America, including Indiana, where it has achieved the status as a major industry.

Several years ago, the Indiana horse industry was estimated to be a $1.3 billion agribusiness employing more than 22,500 Hoosiers.  At that time it was estimated there were 14,300 horses in our state involved in racing.  Madison County has long been a part of Indiana's horse racing tradition.

In our county's infancy, races were mostly staged between hometown horses wherever and whenever they could be held, the winner earning bragging rights and perhaps a few dollars in his pocket.  Over time came the race track.  Our county's horse race tracks have a rather unique history, one that deserves a closer look.

Today, Anderson's Hoosier Park is the eighth and youngest in a long lineage of racetracks devoted to the horse within the boundaries of our county.  The 7/8th of a mile dirt oval opened on September 1, 1994, when patrons attended the grand opening of the standardbred season.  In 2013, Hoosier Park announced the discontinuance of thoroughbred racing in fovor of the long-standing Hoosier favorite, harness racing.  Not only is harness racing a Hoosier favorite, it has been the choice in Madison County since the first track was ushered into existence 164 years ago.

The seventh track to appear in our county was initially called the Anderson FAir Association track.  It was located on the gounds of Athletic Park, also the location of the last fair grounds to be located in or near Anderson.  The association-owned half-mile track opened for a one-day tryout on July4, 1900.  Judging from a photograph presumed to be taken that day, the horse races were very popular.  The photo reveals a covered, wooden grandstand filled to capacity with 2,600 of the 4,000 spectators.

While the races were popular, apparently interest in the fair was not.  After only a few years and what was described as a general lack of interest in the fair by the public, the owners sold the property to the city of Anderson, which had plans to use the property for a city park.  The sale was completed during the administration of Mayor Frank P. Foster(1910-1913).  The re-named Foster Park was dedicated on July 4, 1913.  In 1915, the name was changed again to Athletic Park, and harness racing continued there for a number of years, particularly during the annual summer fairs.  Another photograph exists, taken in the summer of 1936, showing a packed grandstand watching racing under the lights.  At some point after that, the roof was removed because by the 1950s it was gone.

The sixth track on the list was not a conventional racing track, since regularly scheduled races were not held there.  Instead, the half-mile dirt oval track was used primarily for working out and training race horses owned by property owner Sanford Moss, a well-known breeder and trainer of light harness horses.  His stock was highly sought after in the big city market. 

Mr. Moss lived just east of the track on his 2,200-acre farm, which was roughly bounded by today's 25th Street on the south and extended north to the river.  The eastern boundary was Raible Avenue, while the western edge of his property was near Park Road.  The track was situated in the Woodsdale addition on the city's west side and lay between Meadow Lane, Woodside Drive, Nichol Avenue, and West 11th Street.  Nearby was a cluster of natural springs which furnished plenty of cool water for the thirsty animals.

The earliest mention of the Sanford Moss track dates it to 1895, when it had the reputation of being one of the best tracks in this area.  Moss achieved this during the track's construction by bringing in soil with a much higher clay content, making the surface much harder than otherwise would have been achieved using the adjacent soil.

The only races contested there were known as Matinee Races which were races held for fun, with prizes being awarded occasionally.  They were considered neighborhood affairs and were not advertised to attract spectators.  However, the track was not used exclusively for horse training and racing. 

The local members of Boyville used the race track for track meets.  Boyville was a national organization designed to give boys knowledge about the operation of a city.  Regular meetings of the local chapter were held in the east basement room of the library.  On occasion, the boys would walk out to the Moss race track and hold their meets.  One member recalled doing this from 1906 to 1908.  Additionallly, a baseball field was laid out within the track's infield.  The Anderson cricket clubs made use of the grounds and played their games there.

In 1896, it was reported that Sanford Moss had 40 head of racing horses on his farm a mile west of the city, 30 of which were being trained to race.  At that same time, Moss claimed he have the fastest 2-year-old filly in Indiana whose name was  "Nana Chamberlain."  Sanford Moss died in 1932.  Approximately two years later, the ground upon which the track was located was plowed up and converted to farm use.


By Steve Jackson, Madison County Historian 

 

 
 

 Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net

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