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Encyclopedia of Cleveland History

THISTLEDOWN RACE TRACK

THISTLEDOWN RACE TRACK

THISTLEDOWN RACE TRACK (est. 1925) was the area's major horse running track in 1995. Built by John H. McMillen on land owned by Wilson B. Chisholm in the Village of NORTH RANDALL, Thistledown opened for 1 racing season beginning 20 July 1925; however, legal complications and management quarrels led to its closing in 1926. In 1928 Edward B. Strong bought the track from receivers for $900,000 in the hope that Ohio would repeal its law against trackside betting. Until betting was legalized at state-controlled tracks in 1933, Thistledown betting proceeded under the "contribution" system, whereby patrons could "invest" in or "contribute" to the ultimate success of a horse; that permitted bettors to make their own odds without the intervention of bookies or racetrack employees. Racing continued at Thistledown through the 1944 season, but a $500,000 fire on 29 October 1944 destroyed the grandstand and clubhouse. Plans to rebuild and reopen were delayed by wartime restrictions on construction, and in Aug. 1950 Cleveland Raceway Inc. purchased the track from Strong's estate. After a $3 million rebuilding program, it reopened on 11 Sept. 1953. The 1954 season, offering racing purses totaling $800,000, attracted horsemen from as far away as Rhode Island and Florida.

The most prestigious race held is the $300,000 Ohio Derby for 3-year-old runners, which, by 1996, had been held 62 times at Thistledown. In 1959 Edward DeBartolo purchased the track for $5 million, but he made no major renovations until 1981. By this time Sunday racing, begun in 1974, had been canceled due to poor economic conditions. In 1983 the Thoroughbred track, the state's largest, attracted 895,689 customers who wagered $114.8 million on the races, but the track lost nearly $1 million. The state legislature gave the racing industry a $12.4 million annual tax break in 1984. In 1986 Thistledown completed a $29 million renovation program for the track's grandstand and restaurant, making the grandstand glass-enclosed and climate controlled. By the 1990s the racing season at Thistledown (set by the Ohio Racing Commission) averaged 210 days per year and included the Summit, Randall, Thistledown, and Cranwood meetings. In 1995 Mike Mackey served as general manager of the track.