CHRONOLOGY OF ROCKINGHAM PARK
June 28, 1906: Rockingham Park opened for a 21-day Thoroughbred meet in the tiny outpost of Salem Depot, N.H. to rave reviews from the public, the press, and the racing industry. Over 10,000 people, who came by train from Boston, Rhode Island, and New York, packed the state-of-the-art clubhouse, which cost over $1 million to construct. Rockingham Park was proclaimed the finest racecourse in the world. Alyth, a two-year-old, won the first Thoroughbred race. Since gambling was illegal in New Hampshire, betting was shut down after only three days. The meet continued, with the wagering gone underground, but the end of the meet marked the end of Thoroughbred racing and the track sat idle.
Columbus Day, 1911: A new fancy swept the nation and Americans were in love with a new invention, the airplane. About 20,000 people witnessed the first aviation meet in New England when the New England Aviation Company sponsored the event at the idle track. Lieutenant Milling set a new altitude record of 1,600 feet in his bi-plane.
August 20, 1912: The Rockingham Fair opened on the racetrack grounds, and the week-long event included Grand Circuit harness racing although no wagering was allowed. Keynote was the first standardbred to win a race at the track. The fairs, which lasted through 1915 with harness racing all four years, also included hot air balloons, livestock shows, exhibits, a carnival, and many other events.
| 1917: World War I, known as The Great War, raged across Europe. Rockingham Park served the American war effort as campsite for the 14th United States Army Engineers. Camp Rockingham was a bivouac site for the soldiers before they sailed to fight in France.|
July 4, 1925: A 100-mile dirt track race was held on the Rockingham oval, and the average winning speed was 76.9 miles per hour. Motorcycle races were also held. Bouyed by the races success, boards were built on top of the racing surface with the sanction of the American Automobile Association. On October 31st, a 250-mile auto race was won with a Duesenberg racing an average 125.2 miles per hour.
August 21, 1926: Curly Fredericks, on his 61 inch Altoona motorcycle, set the record for the fastest speed (120.3 mph) that would ever be attained by a motorcycle on a circular wooden track.
1928: The final national championship motorcycle races contested on a board track were held at Rockingham.
1929: As the boards on the track had rotted, they were removed and the dirt track was restored. 45,000 spectators were on had for the auto races on Labor Day and
|52,000 were on track for the auto races on Columbus Day. Lou Smith and Sam Simon, two men who would shape the future, were spectators that day.|
Spring 1931: With America still suffering through The Great Depression, Rockingham Park had fallen into disrepair. The New Hampshire Breeders Association purchased the track for $300,000 and spent another $200,000 on a facelift for the stable area, grandstand and clubhouse, and other buildings. Rumors spread through Salem and New Hampshire that Smith and Simon would bring back racing.
June 23, 1931: Although gambling was still illegal in New Hampshire, the New Hampshire Breeders Association purchased the track. On July 1, over 15,000 people cheered Thoroughbreds racing at Rockingham once again, but with no gambling allowed, the track shut down by July 7.
August 28, 1932: In a race that featured the greatest field of marathoners that ever went to the post by the press, Whitey Michaelson, a U.S. Olympic team runner from New York, won the Olympic Marathon race at Rockingham Park in 2:50:19. The field included Olympic gold medal winner Juan Carlos Zabala of Argentina, seven-time Boston marathon Champ Clarence DeMar, and the famed Jock Semple. The worlds most famous runner, Paavo Nurmi also known as The Flying Finn for his nine Olympic gold medals and 12 medals overall, at the last moment was barred from competition by the New England Amateur Athletic Union barred him from competition. So Nurmi fired the starters pistol.
| April 23, 1933: Gambling was legalized in New Hampshire due in no small part to an extensive campaign waged in the state legislature by Smith and Simon. Legendary New York Times sportswriter Damon Runyan, who was close friends with Smith, added his considerable sway with the media and celebrity. The vote to restore racing at the Salem oval passed in a special town meeting by a vote of 617-2.|
June 21, 1933: Rockingham opened for New Englands first meet with legalized gambling. Over 15,000 people, who came by train and automobile, attended the races. On July 4, Brass Monkey, one of the most popular Thoroughbreds to ever race in New England, first showed the fans his patented come-from-behind style of winning.
July 27, 1933: Grand Circuit Harness racing returned for a 16-day meet, and the first steeplechase races were staged. In September, the track ran another very successful Thoroughbred meeting. The track picked up the nicknames of The Rock and Old Rock.
August 1934: Greyhound, the trotter known as the Grey Ghost, notched his first career victory before becoming the worlds fastest trotter with a time of 1:55:1 in 1935 for trainer-driver Sep Palin.
| Summer 1935: The immortal Seabiscuit stabled at Rockingham throughout his two-year-old campaign. He ran five times here, but never won a race. Seabiscuit, arguably one of the most beloved Thoroughbreds of all time, is the subject of a best selling novel and a Hollywood blockbuster movie. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938. Crowd favorite Brass Monkey continued his come-from-behind winning ways. In 1934, Alfred Gwynn Vanderbilts noted runner Discovery raced here. Hall of Fame riders George Woolf and Johnny Longdon competed on the racetrack in 1934-35.|
March 16, 1936: The New Hampshire Jockey Club, controlled by Lou Smith, was formed and took over ownership of the track. By now, the track was providing a major source of revenue to the state coffers and with the money sent to Concord, New Hampshire was able to meet annual budgets without installing any broad-based taxes.
1937: Hall of Fame rider Eddie Arcaro battled Longdon for the jockey championship. Notable owners stabling horses on the grounds include J.H. Whitney, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Greentree Stable, Dixiana Farm, Bing Crosby, W.H. Cane, and W. S. Kilmer.
September 21, 1938: A hurricane swept across the track and the winds lifted jockey Warren Yarberry off Singing Slave at the eighth pole. Track announcer Babe Rubensteins booth was blown off the top of the grandstand. Thirteen barns were destroyed in the storm and racing was called after the sixth race.
| 1938: A dispute over breakage caused the track to pay off all bets to the penney until a solution was reached with the racing commission. That year, the fabled "Lady in Red" appeared. A woman, always dressed in red and always frequenting the track on a Saturday, wagered huge sums of monrey on the favorite and created minus pools for the track. One day she was said to lose $10,000 on a race.|
1938: The famous Brass Monkey was still winning at age 10. To fete his eventual retirement, the big, black gelding was honored at a dinner party at the Coconut Grove, the Boston nightclub that would later be the scene of one of the deadliest fires in American history.
1940: Lou Smith spearheaded the Horse Retirement Fund, with the mission of buying racehorses at the end of their careers and letting them live out their lives on a farm. Smith donated one per cent of every purse at Rockingham to the fund.
July 31, 1942: Jockey Bill Turnbull won seven of nine races. His record for most wins by a jockey on a single Rockingham card held until it was tied by Rudy Baez in 1991.
October 16, 1944: Rockingham presented a check for $100,000 to the National War Fund. During World War II, Lou Smith held Aluminum Day at the track to contribute to a federal campaign to collect 20 million pounds of pots and pans to build tanks and planes for the Armed Forces. Many other fundraising days were held at Rockingham to support the war effort.
November 23, 1946: There was a winner-take-all match race for $10,000 between Dinner Party and Float Me, but Float Me bolted on the far turn and went over the fence. The administration building, which is the only original building still standing and remaining in use, was added to the grounds.
| August 16, 1946: Rockingham Park began to film its races from the vantage of a helicopter, using the equipment as a mechanical patrol judge.|
1950: Rocking Horse Park, a childcare center staffed by registered nursery attendants was established on the Rockingham backside. While their parents watched the races, children could play and even ride Francis The Mule, who had been a Hollywood stand-in for celebrated animal star Francis in the Donald OConnor movies. The daycare center was the first of its kind and later served as a model for backstretch assistance centers at other tracks across the country.
| 1951: Rockingham became the first track to use the moving starting gate.|
1952: Jockey Tony DeSpirito, a national sensation known for his fearless and daring riding style who was later profiled in Sports Illustrated, won both the summer and fall riding titles with 117 wins in 54 days. He was inducted into the New England Turf Writers Assciation Hall of Fame in 2007. In the 50's Despirito shared the jockey's quarters with stars like National Hall of Fame member Bobby Ussery, Darrell Madden and William "Red" Keene.
1956: The national Horsemens Benevolent and Protective Association honored Lou Smith as one of its founding fathers. The HBPA traces its roots to the backside at Rockingham Park.
1958: The national Jockeys Guild named Lou Smith Man of the Year for making Rockingham the first track to offer insurance to riders, and for his other actions to benefit the health and safety of riders.
September 6, 1958: Mark Antony, ridden by Henry Wadja, set the world and track record for 1 mile 70 yards in 1:39.1. On July 28, 1973, Wadjas brilliant career came to a tragic end when he was killed on the track in a second race spill.
1958: Harness racing returned to The Rock, with a spring and fall meeting sandwiching the summer Thoroughbred meet. The new clubhouse, which took two years to construct, was unveiled. The press proclaimed it the last word in comfort and beauty.
|September 6, 1958: Mark Antony, ridden by Henry Wadja, set the world and track record for 1 mile 70 yards in 1:39.1. On July 28, 1973, Wadja's brilliant career came to a tragic end when he was killed on the track in a second race spill.|
August 29, 1959: Dandy Blitzen set the track record of 1:08.4 for six furlongs.
1960: Pick 6 wager introduced at Rockingham.
| October 1961: His Eminence Richard Cardinal Cushing of the Boston Archdiocese dedicated the surgical unit of the Joseph P. Kennedy Memorial Hospital in Brighton, Massachusetts in the name of Lou Smith and his wife, Lutza. The Smiths, who were Jewish, and the Cardinal developed a very close friendship through all of the charity work the Smiths undertook at the track. Lou and Lutza had raised over $2 million for disabled children, and many other fundraising activities at the track raised more millions to benefit countless area charities. Their generosity later resulted in the establishment of the Lou and Lutza Smith Charitable Foundation. To this day, the Lou Smith Swimming Pool provides recreation for children at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Salem.|
1961: Smith brought stars from harness racing to compete at Rockingham. They included horses Tie Silk and Champ Volvo, and Hall of Famers Johnny Chapman, Jim Doherty, Stanley Dancer, Bill Haughton, and Bob Farrington. Another member of harness racings Hall of Fame, Dunkin Donuts founder Bill Rosenberg, campaigned top horses under the name of WilRose Farm.
| 1964: New Hampshire passed the first state-operated lottery in the United States. Sold only in state liquor stores and a few select other locations, the winning lottery ticket was based upon the outcome of a Thoroughbred race at Rockingham Park. Lou Smith then inaugurated the New Hampshire Sweepstakes, patterned on the Irish Sweepstakes. The initial running on September 12, won by Hall of Famer Roman Brother in track record time of 1:55:4 for 1 3/16 mile, was covered by the national media and televised by ABC-TVs Wide World of Sports. In 1965, Roman Brother earned the supreme honor of being voted Horse of The Year.|
September 2, 1967: Hall of Famer Dr. Fager, the greatest horse ever to run at Rockingham, carried the Tartan Stable colors to victory in the New Hampshire Sweepstakes. The Doctor, who would be voted Horse of The Year in 1968, set a track record of 1:59:4 for the 1¼ mile. That year The Doctor also set a track record for the 1 1/8 mile in the Rockingham Special. The N. H. Sweeps was discontinued after 1967 until the tracks signature race was renewed in 1984 by the current ownership of Rockingham Venture, Inc.
Labor Day, 1968: A single-day record on-track handle of $2,699,721 was established by a crowd of 38,791 people.
April 19, 1969: Lou Smith, affectionately known as Uncle Lou around the racetrack and across the state, died after spearheading Rockingham for 38 years. Temple Emanuel in Boston was packed beyond capacity with people from all walks of life who attended his funeral. Attorney Kenneth G. Graf succeeded Smith as the president of the NH Jockey Club.
| 1971: Sunday racing was introduced for two years, but later postponed until 1974. Greg McCarron set a record of 94 wins as an apprentice, and Hall of Famer Jack Van Berg was the leading trainer with 58 trips to the winners circle, which was then a record.|
1977: Hall of Fame jockey Bill Shoemaker rode on opening day. In the 70's fellow future Hall of Famers and modern day superstars Pat Day, Chris McCarron and Carl Gambardella shared the jockeys' quarters with the legendary Hall of Famer
1980 Carl Gambardella, the winningest rider in Rockingham history, won his first riding title on the way to many more and over 6,000 victories. In 2006, Gamby" was elected into the New England Turf Writers Association Hall of Fame.
| July 29, 1980: On a dark day, both literally and figuratively, a devastating early morning fire swept through the grandstand. The remainder of the 68-day meeting was cancelled and the burned-out track would stay shuttered for four long years.|
August 22, 1983: Rockingham Venture, Inc.- comprised of Chairman Max Hugel, President Joseph Carney, Jr., Vice President Edward Keelan, and Treasurer Dr. Thomas Carney- purchased the track from the New Hampshire Jockey Club for $12.5 million. The corporation would spend another $20 million in renovations to the Old Rock.
May 26, 1984: Rockingham reopened to an enthusiastic crowd of 12,843 as racing was resumed, but for Thoroughbreds exclusively. On May 30, Thoroughbred night racing began.
July 17, 1984: The sensational two-year-old filly Moms Command made her racing debut and came from last to first to win the Fanueil Miss Stakes by a head and pay $91.40. As a three-year-old, the Peter Fuller homebred who was ridden by Abby Fuller, won the prestigious filly Triple Crown, the 1985 Triple Tiara. Moms Command, a charter member of the New England Turf Writers Hall of Fame along with her owner-breeder, was elected into the National Throughbred Racing Hall of Fame in 2007.
September 3, 1984: The New Hampshire Sweepstakes, with a purse of $161,600, was run for the first time since 1967 and renewed as a 1 1/8 mile race on the main track. Valiant Lark was the winner.
1985: Rockingham celebrated the 50th anniversary of legalized pari-mutuel Thoroughbred racing at The Rock.
| 1986: Rockinghams seven-furlong turf course with a shute, modeled on the internationally acclaimed grass course at Kentuckys famed Keeneland Race Course, is installed where the former half-mile harness track once was. The course received rave reviews from jockeys and horsemen alike.|
July 26, 1987: The Grade III $162,750 New Hampshire Sweepstakes, which achieved graded status in 1986 in its first year of eligibility, was moved to the turf course and run at the about distance of 1 1/8 mile. Carotene, a Canadian invader and the only filly in the field, upset 10 males to become the sole female winner in the history of Rockinghams signature race.
Summer 1987: Pat Day, the four time Eclipse Award winner, returned to Rockingham for a day in his honor and the Hall of Famer won the races he rode on the track.
August 28, 1989: Hall of Famer Bill Shoemaker, then 58 years old and the winningest rider in Thoroughbred racing history with over 8,800 wins, brought his farewell tour to Rockingham Park. The Shoe thrilled the crowd of 7,527 by winning the last of his three races on Light The Forge. It was his first time riding at The Rock in 12 years, and his last.
March 18, 1990: Jockey Stewart Elliott rode six consecutive winners and just missed going seven-for-seven on the card in the last race of the day. In the 2004 Triple Crown campaign, Elliott rode Smarty Jones to victory in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and finished second in the Belmont.
| October 1990: The plush Sports Club, which overlooks the Thoroughbred paddock, was opened in the clubhouse in time for the Breeders Cup simulcast on NBC-TV. The room provided racing fans an unprecedented level of comfort when watching and wagering on the races, and was later also used for live boxing and other special events.|
1991: The Picnic Pavilion was opened adjacent to the stretch near the administration building. The covered Pavilion and grassy lawn area provided an opportunity for families to spend an enjoyable day together watching the races from a close vantage point. To this day, the Pavilion is also used for outdoor parties and the annual Coca-Cola Family Fest.
1991: The federal Horse Racing Act was passed, allowing full-card interstate simulcasting. Later, common pool wagering would follow.
July 20, 1991: The $500,000 New England Classic, the richest race in New England history, was run as the seventh event in the American Championship Racing Series and televised nationally by ABC-TV. Grade I winner Marquetry, trained by Hall of Famer Bobby Frankel, crossed the wire first under David Flores in the 1 1/8 mile test over the main track.
September 27, 1991: Jockey Rudy Baez equaled Willie Turnbulls record of seven wins on a single card. That year, Baez set a Rock record for most wins during a single meet with 126 victories during the summer session and a North American record for most wins (413) during a single year at a single track. He swept all four (winter, spring, summer, and fall) Rock riding titles and finished second behind Pat Day in the number of races won in North America. Rudy was elected as a charter member into the New England Turf Writers Hall of Fame in 2005.
| June 6, 1992: Carl Gambardella won his 6,000th race on Nip Of Gin in the first race. At the time, he became only the seventh jockey in history to reach the 6,000-win milestone and went into the record books alongside Bill Shoemaker, Laffit Pincay, Angel Cordero, Jorge Velasquez, Larry Snyder, and Johnny Longden. Gamby, was nominated for induction into the 2006 class of the National Racing Hall of Fame.|
1996: Rockingham celebrated its 90th birthday, and Jockey Joe Hampshire, Jr. won his first of several riding titles. It was the first time since The Rock reopened that the top jockey was someone other than Carl Gambardella or Rudy Baez.
1997: Charitable Bingo, benefiting many local service organizations, was instituted in the Clubhouse six nights per week.
December 31, 1999: The track hosted First Night to usher in the 21st century and the Town of Salem celebrated its 250th birthday at the same time. Over 10,000 revelers enjoyed the New Years Eve festivities featuring indoor and outdoor events.
June 24, 2000: Inexplicable, ridden by Jose Santos and trained by Christophe Clement, established the course record of 1:45 over firm turf in the Grade III $200,000 New Hampshire Sweepstakes.
| June 22, 2002: Del Mar Show carried the colors of famed owner Allen Paulsen to victory in the Grade III $200,000 New Hampshire Sweeps in its final running as a Thoroughbred race. Hall of Famers Jerry Bailey and Bill Mott were the horses jockey and trainer. |
March 9, 2003: Rockingham President Joseph Carney, respected and beloved sportsman, businessman, and humanitarian, passed away. His brother, Dr. Thomas Carney assumed the presidency of the track.
May 24, 2003: Standardbreds raced on a newly installed surface as Rockingham opened its live meet with the revival of harness racing exclusively. Gallo Blue Chip, then the leading money-winning pacer of all time with over $4 million in earnings, won the $12,000 opening day feature as the 1-9 favorite.
August 9, 2003: Mutineer set a then all age track record of 1:54.4 in winning the second division of the $133,538 Zweig Memorial Trot for three-year-olds. Mr. Eero won the $131,037 first division and Decadent Pagan took the $44,725 Filly division, and both trotters were owned by Erkki Laakkonen.
| July 17, 2004: Bruce Ranger set the all-time Rockingham record for most wins on a single card when the driver posed for winners circle photos eight times. Ranger eclipsed the mark of seven wins on a single card set by jockeys Willie Turnbull (1942) and Rudy Baez (1991). Ranger, who set a record with 145 victories in 2003, smashed his marks to top the 2004 driver standings with 215 victories on the season. He won at least one race in every day of competition during the 60-day meet, and finished his amazing season with one eight-win day, three seven-win days, three six-win days, and 12 five-win outings. Ranger still holds records in every driving category at the track.|
September 4, 2004: Fools Goal, driven by Hall of Famer Jim Doherty, won the inaugural $50,000 Joseph Carney Memorial Trot in then track record time of 1:54.1.
September 5, 2004: Rockingham became one of only three tracks in history to race standardbreds and Thoroughbreds on the same card. Three Thoroughbred races on the turf course followed eight harness races on the main track.
| August 16, 2005: Rockingham Venture, Inc. announced it had entered into an agreement with Millennium Gaming, Inc. to return first-class live horse racing to Rockingham Park and offer other entertainment options. Those options include expanding gambling if legalized by the State of New Hampshire.|
May 27, 2006: Rockingham opened its centennial season and celebrated the 100th anniversary with special promotions and commerorative giveaways all season long. Whosurboy, driven by Michael MacDonald, set a new track and New England record of 1:49 for all ages and gaits on opening day.
| July 1, 2006: Our First Falcon N driven by Ron Cushing established a world record of 1:44.1 for the unorthodox distance of fifteen-sixteenths of a mile.|
July 2, 2006: The track hosted the Town of Salem for an Independence Day extravaganza and Rockingham's 100th Birthday Party. New Hampshire Governor John Lynch and other state and local dignataries joined over 15,000 people in enjoyment of the special events, amusements, entertainment and a grand fireworks display.
July 30, 2006: Earls' Charm K, driven by Jonathan Roberts, established the Rockingham and New England all-age trotting mark of 1:54.
September 22, 2006: Charitable Texas Hold'em poker tournaments were introduced, adding a new dimmension of entertainment options. The popularity of the games grew quickly, and by December Rockingham had 60 tables in play and was the second largest poker room in New England behind only the Foxwoods Resort and Casino. In one year, over $600,000 was distributed to local charities.
|January 14, 2007: Edward Keelan, one of Rockingham Ventures Inc.'s original four founders and an icon in the racing industry passed away.|
February 21, 2007: Max Hugel, another of Rockingahm Venture Inc,'s original four founders, passed away. For 24 years, he was chairman of the board.
May 16, 2007: Edward M. Callahan was named president and general manager of the track. He had served as vice president and genreal manager since 1983.
August 1, 2009 : Standardbred races on the turf course were held at Rockingham for the first time in the 103-year history of the track. Do Si Do Lavee, trained and driven by John Hogan, trotted the mile in 2:10.4 over a course rated as "good" in the third race on the card and then Mathers Lavee, trained and driven by Raymond Vizzi, trotted the same distance in 2:09.4 in the seventh race. The pair of trotting races on the turf were only the fifth ever held in North American racing as Indiana Downs in Indian ran two trotting races on the grass course in 2005 and one in 2006. The two trotting races also marked the first time that the Rockingham turf course had been used since Septemeber 5, 2004 for three Thoroughbred races.
|August 8, 2009 : One race for pacers was held on the turf course, marking the first time that pacers had competed on the grass in the track's history. The race was only the second for pacers on the grass in North American racing history as The Meadowlands in New Jersey had previously carded one only two weeks before. Cobbler Hanover, owned, trained and driven by George Fillion, paced the mile in 2:06 on a course rated "firm".|
October 12, 2009: Rockingham Gaming LLC was scheduled to take over the charitable gaming operation which includes poker, blackjack, craps, roulette and Boston 5. In only three years, about $3 million had been raised for local charities by the gaming at the track.
(Revised September 2009)