(Look Back is an occasional series with content and images from the Atlantic County Historical Society.)
"They're off!" was the sound heard at the Atlantic City Race Course starting July 22, 1946, when the track opened in the Mays Landing section of Hamilton Township.
The idea of having a racetrack was started by a group of men: John B. Kelly, Fred C. Sholler, Glendon Robertson and James "Sonny" Fraser. Shareholders included Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Sammy Kaye, Harry James and band leader Xavier Cugat.
The racetrack had a seating capacity of 10,000 and standing room of 25,000.
Among the best known horses to run there was Kelso, considered to be amongst the best race horses of the 20th century. He made his 2-year-old debut on Sept. 4, 1959, at the local track, which at that time was considered one of the premiere ovals in the country.
In addition to racing, the track was the venue for the Atlantic City Pop Festival in August 1969, which attracted 100,000 fans and rivaled Woodstock. In the 1970s, with the opening of casinos in Atlantic City, the attendance dropped significantly. Other racetracks competed for quality racing horses, and the amount of money to pay out was reduced. Subsequently, racing at the track ceased and ultimately the venue was forced to stop operations.
Trying another activity to attract bettors, the owners of the Philadelphia Park Racetrack purchased the track in 2001 to function as a simulcasting facility
In 2011, the track received $1 million for capital improvements from the Casino Simulcast Fund, but on Jan. 9, 2015, the owners and operators announced the racetrack was ceasing operations and closing permanently. The last day of racing was Jan. 16, 2015.
Founded in 1913, the Atlantic County Historical Society has been preserving historical materials in its library and museum since. Every week, Wednesday to Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., it opens its doors to share these collections with anyone who is interested. The society building is at 907 Shore Road in Somers Point. More information is available at www.atlanticcountyhistoricalsocietynj.org and on Facebook, or by calling 609-927-5218.