Photo Blog: Rockingham Park

A few days ago it became official that the 110 year old Rockingham Park up in New Hampshire, a track once called the “finest racetrack in the world,” is closed for good. So naturally once I heard that news and was planning a trip to Massachusetts anyways, I knew I had to hop up to Rockingham to see it before it comes down.

And what a weird sight it was!

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While the track wasn’t actually abandoned, it has been used as an OTB since the last race in 2009, it still had a spooky vibe to it. The rain really added to it!

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The saddling area of the paddock was completely overgrown as they out the benches under the cover. But the rest of it wasn’t all that bad and even looks like it was manicured for a while.

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Jock’s Club has a bit more of a punch to it than Jockey’s Room.

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Opened in June in 1906, Rockingham was instantly popular with fans from all over the Northeast with people coming in by train from Boston, New York, and even Rhode Island.

While gambling was illegal in New Hampshire at the time, underground wagering was a common sight.

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What appeared to be dorms, it was a two-story building at the top of the stretch.

Edit Sept 12: Commenters below have informed me that this was actually the racing office and not dorms, thanks guys!

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The Vet’s office was the creepiest part of the track. It almost looked like a bomb went off and they had to leave in a hurry. Located next to the dorms at the quarter pole.

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All calendars in the Vet’s office stopped on August 2009, when the last standardbred races were held.

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A lot of X-rays were left behind.

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At the top of the stretch is the maintenance shed, still had straw and tractors inside.

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A lot of the stalls still had names of horses on them, this horse Ate a Gator last raced there in 2001 for trainer George Handy.

George still trains to this day down in Florida, he had his first winner in 1946. Seriously.

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In June 1933, Rockingham became the first track in New England to offer legalized gambling, 15,000 people showed up the first day.

In 1951, Rockingham was the first track to use the moving starting gate.

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While the track is 110 years old, the building is at most 32 years old after a fire burned it all down in 1980. The grandstand we see now was opened in 1984.

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The track is referred to just as “the rock,” and suspiciously that part of the tote board sign is missing.

The tracks motto was also “Let’s Rock!” which is awesome.

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Inside the tote board is just strange looking.

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A rock

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Since standardbreds went for a few more years after the thoroughbreds, the dirt of the track was a lot more compact than the dirt used for thoroughbreds so it wasn’t really a muddy area.

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The premier race at Rockingham was the New Hampsire Sweepstakes. It went through a lot of turbulent times, was even won by Dr. Fager in 1967. But the final running was in 2002 won by Del Mar Show. Unfortunately there isn’t a good version of that race online, but there is of the 2001 running when Hap pulled away from Gander in the stretch. Bill Mott won both, so basically the same thing.

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The whole experience really had almost a post-apocalyptic vibe to it everywhere I went. From the stands to the backside a lot of things were just abandoned and falling apart.

Construction crews wasted no time and within a week of them announcing it will be taken down they were already hard at work dismantling everything. I wanted to get into the grandstand but was almost asked to leave by two guys at different times. They both said I could walk around outside but couldn’t go in without a hardhat since it is an active construction zone. Bummer.

Overall it was a really surreal experience. Only heard good things about the track from so many people so it was really cool to be able to see it in person. Too bad there was never a chance to see it when it was active.

For now their website is still active, and there’s a really cool detailed timeline of the track’s history if you want to read more about the track!

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19 thoughts on “Photo Blog: Rockingham Park

  1. Galloped horses briefly at Rockingham Park in September, 1987. Enjoyed the feel of the place, especially the track kitchen. Another sign of the times as horse racing continues a steady decline from its formerly lofty position of prominence in American culture.

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  2. The two-story building at the top of the stretch was our racing office- not dorms. And that dilapidated, big, white, wooden building with the green trim and peeled paint adjacent to the stretch dates back to 1932- it was the administration building until a few years ago- and before Lou Smith died in 1969, he and his wife, Lutza, had an apartment on the top floor. The admin. building was not destroyed in the 1980 fire. Only the old grandstand went up in flames. The rest of the track structures, including the barns, were saved. Great photos, but still heart-breaking for so many of us who worked at The Rock for so many years and consider it home.

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  3. I have never been to this place, but own and have been involved with horses for years. So very sad to see such a historical venue in ruin and torn down. Immagine what stories it could tell……

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  4. We had followed the fire trucks into the track that morning with our hearts in our throats. I watched the grandstand burn from the quarter pole gap. It was a very grey foggy morning and no one could tell that the grandstand was full of smoke until the fire broke through the roof. No other buildings were close enough to be threatened. We all knew deep down that something special was gone and things would never be the same. It breaks my heart to think of it being bulldozed.

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  5. The edits that the others have made are accurate…I had my first job at The Rock (in the track kitchen) back in 1985…and then went to work with the horses the following summer. Spent my teen years working on the backside for Dan Hasbany. Sad that this will all be bulldozed away for the sake of more shopping.

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  6. This was my family’s past time and it is gone now. I am sad over this and I can speak for my entire family.

    L.Nagel
    C.Nagel
    K.Nagel
    J.Nagel
    M.B. Nagel
    N. Nagel
    M. Nagel

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  7. I grew up here. Had one of my first kisses with my first love on chairs where we’d watch the racing. We’d wander in and around the old site! So many memories! Sa dung hey yo! Iconic !

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  8. A world of memories at The Rock, back to dropping off my grandmother with her folding chair and bag lunch in the 60s. My dad was so sad the day live racing ended
    Chris T.

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  9. My dad William “Bill” Crane is rolling over in his grave. He gave so much to this place to see it bull bozed. I am so glad he is not here to see it. This place put me through college, as I worked for n the concession stands from the day they re-opened, until I graduated from Pymouth State and in 1991. Thank you for all the memories at The Rock.

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    • Hi Jennifer, I knew your dad as he was friends with my dad, Dicky Berube. I have a winners circle photo that has your dad in it! Some people view the track as something that was bad, but for me, it was all good. Very sad to see this happen. I’m sure my dad is rolling over in his grave as well.

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  10. graduated from H C in 58, helped my uncle with his stable for a couple of summers . He could never get stalls inside the track , had to rent from barn next to the track .I had coffee in kitchen couple of times with WAJDA , BOHENKO , PASSMORE , GLASSNER . Pete Reynolds was MAINT guy . For horse community ROCK is like losing a family member . Still involved as horse owner at PENN NATIONAL in PA. 81 YRS OLD .

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  11. I remember working for Frank Verdillo, Danny Verdillo Jr, and Sr. All good times at The Rock. I worked there from 1985, to 1987. Frank, or Danny, if you read this please get in touch with me. My name is Ken Kerwin, and my email address is rtkerwin25@gmail.com. So sad to see The Rock being destroyed.

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