Not many residents in the Bronx are aware of that fact that at one point in time there was a racetrack in Jerome Park in the Bronx. The American Jockey Club and Leonard W. Jerome opened the Jerome Park Racetrack on September 25th 1866. The opening of the racetrack in 1866 signified a return to normalcy as the Civil War came to an end in 1865. The track opened in a section of Westchester County called Fordham which would become part of the Bronx in 1874.
Opening day at Jerome Park Racetrack drew twenty thousand fans. One of those fans was the legendary United States General Ulyses S. Grant. Three years later in 1869, Ulyses S. Grant would win the Presidency of the United States and serve from 1869 to 1877. The first race of the park’s opening day was won by African American jockey Abe Hawkins.
The New York Times published a list or rules and regulations to patrons on the first day of racing. The rules included a guide for parking horses and carriages. Those horse carriages that were just dropping of passengers were than instructed to “pass the park gate and into the woods and beyond.” Patrons who were parking their horses or carriages inside the gate were instructed to pay a one dollar fee. All patrons had to pay a fee of one dollar upon entering the first gate which was presumably the grandstand. The rules posted in the New York Times also explicitly stated that any ladies unaccompanied by a gentleman were not allowed in the grandstand alone. Each male clubhouse member was allowed to bring two ladies into the clubhouse for free. Additional ladies brought in by male clubhouse members had to pay a fee of one dollar. Children under sixteen were allowed in free as long as they were accompanied by a clubhouse member.
The Jerome Park Racetrack’s historic significance in New York Thoroughbred Racing stems from the fact that Jerome Parks’ racing program featured many stakes races, one of which was the first running of The Belmont Stakes. The Belmont Stakes was named after August Belmont who was the chief financier on the construction of Jerome Park Racetrack. The legendary Belmont Stakes has since become the third leg of Thoroughbred Racing’s Triple Crown series which starts at Churchill Downs In Kentucky, moves on to the Preakness Stakes run at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore and then ends with the third and final round the Belmont Stakes at Belmont Park in New York.
The Jerome Park Racetrack was opened on the Bathgate Estate In the Bronx. The Jerome Park Racetrack occupied 230 acres of land. The Racetrack was a first rate facility. The clubhouse at the Jerome Park Racetrack was designed for the elite class offering first class amenities. Historians have written that the Clubhouse resembled a first class luxury hotel.
The Jerome Park Racetrack was known for revolutionizing racing by offering many innovative concepts such as parimutuel betting, and the handicapping of races. The track also was the first to run races for two year olds. The concept of claiming races in which horses could be claimed for new ownership was also an innovation at Jerome Park Racetrack.
The racetrack was named after Leonard W. Jerome who was born in 1817 and died in 1891. Leonard W. Jerome is a fascinating character in New York History. Leonard W. Jerome’s grandson was Winston Churchill who rose to fame as the prominent Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II. Leonard W. Jerome was a wealthy businessman from Brooklyn who at one time also owned the New York Times. Leonard W. Jerome was also the founder of the American Academy of Music. Jerome was heavily involved in finance as was often called the “King Of Wall Street.”
The Jerome Park Racetrack was closed in 1894 for good. The site would be utilized for a new reservoir to accommodate the growing population of New York City at the turn of the century. With its innovative concepts in racing including the birth of the Belmont Stakes, the Jerome Park Racetrack played a significant role in the development and success of horse racing in New York City.
Jackson, K. T. (2011). The encyclopedia of New York City (Second ed.). New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. p.677
The Inauguration Meeting Today At Jerome Park Race Track. THE NEW YORK TIMES, September 25, 1866
New York Public Library Digital Collections
Photo: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Jerome’s Park. Grand Stand, front view.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed March 10, 2019. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-1a94-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99
Photo: The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Jerome’s Park. Judges and Pooling Stand, front view.” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed March 10, 2019. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47e0-1a96-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99