Beautifully engraved unissued certificate from the Narragansett Racing Association, Inc.. This historic document was printed by the E.A. Wright Banknote Company and has an
ornate border around it with a vignette of an indian chief.
On May 18, 1934, Rhode Island voters approved a measure legalizing parimutuel betting by an almost 3 to 1 margin. The following day, the Narragansett Racing Association announced plans for a $1 million race track and steeplechase course on the site of the former What Cheer Airport and filed articles of incorporation with the Secretary of State of Rhode Island. The Association chose to name their track after Narragansett Park, a former trotting park in Cranston, Rhode Island. On June 6, 1934, the Narragansett Racing Association was awarded the state's first horse racing permit. Construction was completed in less than two months at a cost of $1.2 million. The track consisted of a one-mile racing oval, a 14,000 seat grandstand, 270 betting and paying booths, a clubhouse, and 22 barns with stalls that could hold more than 1,000 horses. The City of Pawtucket constructed a new four-lane highway leading to the entrance of the track and a double track railway was built near the stands.
Narragansett Park opened on August 1, 1934, with 37,281 people in attendance, including Jack Dempsey, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt Jr., and Jesse H. Metcalf. The track's first card consisted of eight races. The feature race was a $5,000 added six furlongs sprint for three-year-olds and up won by Chinese Empress, a three-year-old chestnut filly. The mutuel handle for the day was $351,482. On Labor Day 1934 the track drew 53,922 patrons, the most for any sporting event in the history of Rhode Island.
During its early years, Narragansett Park was one of the most financially successful tracks in the country. From the time it opened to September 30, 1936 it posted a net profit of $2,017,381.54. In 1934 Rhode Island received over $800,000 in revenue from the track, which was more than 10% of the state's entire budget. Narragansett also became known as somewhat of a “High Society” due to its proximity to Newport, Rhode Island – the summer resort of many wealthy owners from New York City. The track was frequented by celebrities, including Cab Calloway, Jimmy Durante, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Rooney, and Milton Berle. For decades, the track received patrons from Boston via the New Haven Railroad. During the racing season, daily trains, known as "'Gansett Specials" ran from Boston's South Station to the station tracks at Naragansett Park. The trains left Boston around noon to arrive in time for the first race and returned following the last race.
Narragansett Park was part of many horse racing innovations. The track was one of the first in the country to install a photo finish camera and a starting gate. It was also one of the first to institute a $1,000 minimum purse.
On June 22, 1935, Seabiscuit broke his maiden at Narragansett and equaled the five-furlong track record. Four days later in the Watch Hill Claiming Stakes he once again broke the track record, this time by a full second. In 1937, Seabiscuit finished third in the Narragansett Special. The loss ended a streak of seven consecutive stakes wins for Seabiscuit, one shy of Discovery's record.
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