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!
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!
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.
Jock’s Club has a bit more of a punch to it than Jockey’s Room.
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.
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!
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.
All calendars in the Vet’s office stopped on August 2009, when the last standardbred races were held.
A lot of X-rays were left behind.
At the top of the stretch is the maintenance shed, still had straw and tractors inside.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Inside the tote board is just strange looking.
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.
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.
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!