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Then And Now: Longacres Racetrack

After 59 years of horse racing in Renton, Longacres closed 20 years ago Friday.

For decades it was the only game in town.

Long before the Sonics, Seahawks and Mariners there was Longacres Racetrack in the Renton Junction. Longacres opened on August 3, 1933 and closed September 21, 1992 after the owners sold it to the Boeing Company to build its Commercial Airlines Headquarters and Flight Services Center.

Nestled on dairy land owned by James Nelsen, all that remains of Longacres today is the Nelsen's home along West Valley Highway.

Look closely and you'll see evidence of the former racetrack. From above you can see the layout of the track and the one-mile oval where the thunder of the horses was seen by thousands at a time. You can walk most of the oval through the long dried grass with exception to the northeastern part where the Boeing Company's road follows the same path the horses did.

A big piece of concerte foundation still on the property shows the framework for the grandstands and the green wall that separated the horses from the crowds.

Vinson Joseph Gottstein is responsible for dreaming up the iconic racetrack. A city-raised youth, his father, Meyer Gottstein, was the largest whiskey wholesale dealership in the Pacific Northwest. At 8 years old, Gottstein's father gave him his first racehorse "Prince Liege." The present was natural for a man who owned a horse stable at The Meadows, a horse racetrack, vehicles and an airstrip. Located at the south end of Boeing Field, the racetrack would later close due to a ban on gambling in 1909.

Vinson, who went by "Joe" had a vision to build a horse track where people from all over would come to watch live horse racing. It was a long battle, the first bill failed to reach the floor in the House. The second attempt passed in Gottstein's favor with Governor Clarence Martin's signing of House Bill 59 on March 20, 1933. On June 20, the Washington Jockey Club founded by Gottstein and others were given a permit to own and operate a one-mile track.

28 Days and 28 Nights

Gottstein hired architect B. Marcus Priteca who designed the Coliseum Theater in Seattle, giving him only a month to design and build.

A crew of 3,000 worked around the clock including Gottstein who planted Lombardy poplars around the track. Many still stand today along the south end of the track. Dozens more stand throughout the entire Boeing property.

Longacres racetrack was born with a racing strip, red and silver grandstands, a club house, 33 barns, a judges' stand, and pari-muteual windows. Racing commenced on August 3, 1933 and lasted 40 days.

Opening Day

Eight races were scheduled, including an inaugural handicap of six furlongs for three-year-olds and up. The purse was $1,000 with thousands watching Vetera, under jockey Hebert "Little Nell" Simoons win the track's first race.

A Longacres Mile was born

In June of 1935, Gottstein made the announcement that Longacres would feature the Longacres Mile. The mile was not considered the classic distance. That's what appealed to Gottstein so much. He knew it took a unique horse to excel at the mile distance. It was too long for sprinters and not long enough for the routers. Go too fast on the lead and you have nothing left in the tank at the end. Wait too long to move and you'll never catch the leaders.

The Mile was inaugurated with an unheard of $10,000 purse. For more than four decades, it was the richest stakes mile event in the country. To this day it remains the richest stakes race west of Chicago and north of the Bay Area.

World War II

The track closed during World War II  for a blackout and Army barracks were constructed in the infield. The barracks were later converted into the Gottstein cottage which remained until the track's final days.

Triple Crown Winner Visits

Seattle Slew, the Triple Crown winner appeared at Longacres for a noncompetitive showing on July 8 and 9, 1977. For the first time the track sold advance tickets for a regular racing day. Admission prices (usually $3.50 for the best seats increased to $5 for the Triple Crown). The event raised funds for human medical research at the University of Washington and for horse medical research at Washington State University.

Although Seattle Slew was bred in Kentucky and never raced at Longacres, his co-owners Karen and Mickey Taylor were from White Swan, Washington.

Loss of Revenue Seals The Deal For Sale of Longacres to Boeing

After six years of decreasing revenue, the Alhadeff family announced the sale of the 215-acre Longacres property to the Boeing Company. The sale prices was later reported at $90 million.

The Thunder Goes Silent

Just days before the final race, Longacres took out full-page ads in all the daily newspapers.With a photo of horses come down the stretch, the ad stated: "Rip out this page. In 96 hours it'll be all you have."

Closing day resembled the Academy Awards with women dressed to the nines and men dressed in suits. The stars came out on the final night of racing including Chinook Pass, who at the age of 13 paraded down the stretch just as he did in 1983 to win the Longacres Mile. More than 23,000 attended making it the second largest crowd in Longacres' history wagering more than $3.3 million.

Between the fifth and sixth races trumpeter Dennis Schreffler played "Thanks for the Memories." Before the 11th race, he played "Taps," then "Auld Lang Syne."

Jockey Gary Stevens was to ride only once, but decided to race them all including the final aboard Native Rustler to win the last race. In that last race, the track announcer told the crowd "these horses belong to you. Listen to their final thunder."

Some fans scrambled over the outside rail and poured onto the tracks while others wondered onto the grass infield and gatherer track dirt for souvenirs. Valley Daily News sports reporter Matt Massey wrote on September 23, 1992 "some took in their last mile and one die hard streaked past the finish line in his underwear." 

The Valley Daily News' last headline on September 22, 1992 read, "The race over, the lights out, Longacres is dead."

Horse Racing returns to Emerald Downs in Auburn

Emerald Downs opened on June 20, 1996 with the inaugural 100-day meet running through November 4. The track surface is made of geo-textile fabric, washed rock, coarse sand and one-component track material.

Today the track hosts live Thoroughbred racing from mid April through the end of September. Races are run Friday through Sunday and holidays the majority of the season. During mid-summer, the track races on a Thursday through Sunday schedule.

Emerald Downs is a Limited Partnership, with a group of investors led by Track President Ron Crockett, a 1957 Renton High School graduate.

Timeline of Longacres Racetrack

March 1933 – Governor Clarence D. Martin signs the House Bill 59 legalizing horse racing after 30-year ban on the sport in the state.

August 3, 1933 – Longacres opens for the first season with 40 days of racing.

August 24, 1935 – Inaugural running of the Longacres Mile (winner)

1943 – Track closes because of a World War II blackout and Army barracks are constructed in the infield. The barracks were later converted into the cottage behind the scoreboard?

August 28, 1949 – Bill Shoemaker makes his first appearance at Longacres board Irene’s Angel.

1963 - Gottstein passed the daily control of the track to his son-in-law Morris Alhadeff.

January 1, 1971 – Gottstein dies at the age of 79 after a battle of cancer.  Alhadeff becomes President of Longacres.

1972 – Expansion increases the Club House area by nearly 20,000 square feet, providing a number of separate lounges and betting areas all served by closed circuit television.

May 20, 1972 – Jockey Larry Pierce sets a North American riding record with seven wins out of eight mounts.

August 27, 1972 – Longacres first million-dollar day. A crowd of 13,638 fans waged $1,024,338. It was also the same day as the Mile where Red Wind beat favored Briartic to win the $35,000 Mile.

May 3, 1978 – The Paddock Club opens at south end of the grandstand. The two story addition over the saddling area provided an extra 1,000 indoor seats and enabled fan to reserved seating for an entire day’s races.

August 27, 1978 – The first two million dollar handle. A total of $2,003,482 was wagered with fans watching Bill Shoemaker make his first appearance in 29 years riding Bad ‘N Big to victory in the $100,000 Longacres Mile.

October 1, 1979 – Longacres’ season attendance passes the million mark for the first time with 1,009,552 fans passing through the gates for 110 days.

August 23, 1981 – The longest crow in history (25,031) watches Trooper Seven become the first horse ever to win back to back Longacres Mile with wagers of $2,770,179, the largest single day handle.

September 17, 1982 – Chinook Pass sets a world record of 0:55.20 for five furlongs in the Owner’s Handicap.

August 3, 1983 – Longacres celebrates its 50th anniversary, setting a weekday record of 13,584 fans.

April 2, 1986 – The track opens with lights and a 4:30 p.m. weekday post.

November 3, 1986 – Jockey Vicky Aragon becoming the first woman ever to win the riding crown with 179 victories.

August 23, 1987 – Hall of Fame trainer Charlie Whittingham returns to Longacres for the first time in over 50 years to saddle Judge Angelucci to victory in the Longacres Mile. Gary Baze collects his fourth Mile title.-

1988 - Alhadeff's sons Michael and Kenneth became, respectively, track president and executive vice present.

March 30, 1988 – Longacres races are broadcast live via satellite to race books in Nevada for the first time ever.

August 11, 1989 – Jockey Gary Boulanger wins six of 10 races and goes on to take the riding title with 194 wins, the second highest total in track history.

August 27, 1989 – Simply Majestic becomes only the second hose to win the Longacres Miles two years in a row.

September 27, 1990 – The Alhadeff family announces the sale of Longacres approximately 215 acres to the Boeing Company for a reported $90 million.

August 25, 1991 – Former champ Gary Stevens wins with Louis Cyphre in the first running of the Rainier Mile.

September 15, 1991 – Boulanger breaks Gary Stevens’ 232 mark for wins in a single season with A Rio Runnier; finishes the 125-day race schedule with 247.

September 21, 1992 – Last day of live thoroughbred racing at Longacres Park.

 

Sources for story – historylink.org; Emerald Downs; "Portrait of a racetrack: a behind the scenes look at a racetrack community" by David Grant Best; Renton Historical Museum; Renton Chronicle, Valley Daily News, Seattle Times. History of Vinson Joesph Gottstein from Susan van Dyke Washington Horse Racing Hall of Fame; Library of Congress; Museum of History and Industry, the King County Library System and King County Government.

carolyn vrablick October 07, 2012 at 11:23 PM
My Dad was a owner/ trainer at Longacres, Billie Shoemaker also rode for him. I have several winners circle pictures including that one.

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