If the ghosts of any of New England's rock-bound moralists were abroad in Rhode Island last Saturday, they saw their worst fears realized. For in this land where the Puritan spirit managed to keep horse racing banned for nearly two centuries, some 15,000 eager followers of turf affairs turned out to attend the opening of Lincoln Downs—and this despite a freezing rain, a temperature in the 20s, and a track that had had three or four tons of rock salt poured on it during the night to melt a four-inch covering of snow. In all truth, these were hardy spirits, rendered durable, perhaps, by simple patience, for it was not until 1933, after Rockingham Park finally won the consent of the New Hampshire legislature, that the Yankees had any chance at all to bet on running horses in their own territory.
Not that those who ventured forth to Lincoln Downs this shivering Saturday were uncomfortable. For this newest and smallest of the New England tracks (it opened in 1947) has all the comforts of home, including glass-enclosed, oil-heated stands. Actually, the paying guests at "Little Line" were much more comfortable, at this earliest opening in the 20-odd years of New England racing, than the customers will be at Jamaica during most of April.
This is primarily due to the foresight of B. A. Dario, an Italian-American, who seems to have the Midas touch. Around Providence his nickname is "Lucky." A Buick dealer, one of the largest in New England, he first became interested in thoroughbreds about 20 years ago. He had a modest string which he has since parlayed into a successful breeding farm.
Sturdy, dark and fiftyish, Dario might be called the Eugene Mori of the Yankee circuit (Mori, who controls Garden State and Tanforan, has just taken over Hialeah). Both men believe in plowing back the profits and making the customers comfortable.
Dario started by experimenting with Pascoag Park, a tiny half-mile track. Then, grasping opportunity and a perfect location, he built Lincoln Downs and made it one of the most modern tracks of its size in the country.
EVERYTHING AND MORE
Lincoln Downs has everything and more than some of its bigger competitors, including a pleasant three-tiered clubhouse topped by a "Turf Club." It is small (slightly under seven-eighths of a mile), with perfect visibility, a lake in the infield and turns which are not as sharp as you might fear. Horsemen aren't neglected either. For there is a $50,000 stake, the Lincoln Special on April 18, during the 37-day meeting, one of the two races for this amount on the circuit, the other being the Massachusetts Handicap.
On opening day, the Inaugural 'Cap was taken by Texan T. P. Morgan's Ezio which had been racing in New Orleans. He beat the odds-on favorite Blessbull, which just a few weeks ago beat the McLennan winner, Social Outcast, at equal weights in the Palm Beach 'Cap at Hialeah. The third horse, Park Dandy, strictly a New England runner, which has been away since last August, ran well enough to make me think he'd beat both of them the next time out.
QUICK END TO A VENTURE
New England was the last big section of the country to succumb to the lure of the running horse, although trotters performed there at every county fair since the mid-19th Century. Its first running track, Rockingham Park, was built in 1906 by "Bet-a-Million" Gates and his partner John Drake. These gentlemen thought they had the local politicos in their pockets but they overlooked a couple of crusading senators who, enlisting the aid of a clergyman, put an end to the first Rockingham venture in a mere two or three days.
For a quarter-century after that the ghost track stood forlorn, until 1933 when Lou Smith, pioneer of modern New England racing, finally won the blessing of the legislature to reopen it. Rockingham's quick success established racing in New England.
Just a year later, the colorful Walter O'Hara opened Narragansett Park. Then in 1935 Boston's own track, Suffolk Downs, opened near Revere. So in a few brief years a brand-new circuit was born. It has developed some good horses, too; the best known are Little Beans and the current mystery horse, Boston Doge.