Kentucky isn’t the only place that offers horse racing.
For much of the 1800s, Augustians enjoyed watching and betting on the race of the region’s fastest horses at a site south of downtown.
“Augusta has always been known for her love of fine horses and fine races,” wrote the authors of the “Augusta Memorial History” in 1890, and they were right.
A notice in the December 8, 1798 issue of The Augusta Chronicleannounced that Richmond Jockey Club racing would “start for the first time” from December 13 at General John Twiggs.
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The Jockey Club actively promoted the races and made sure to publicize their events in the newspaper.
A January 1803 notice announced the start of the next equine season with races and their winning purses: 4-mile race – $350 (about $9,000 today); 3 mile heat – $200; 2 mile heat – $150; and 1 mile heat – raffle for entry money.
the “History of Memory” also placed the city’s first racetrack in 1810 in what is now Greene Street. Horse racing then moved to Greene and Eighth, near the old Baptist Church. Then came the most enduring place – the Lafayette racetrack.
This track was located at the southwest corner of 12th (then Marbury Street) and Wrightsboro Road (then Turknett Springs Road).
In the decades to come, many well-known horses raced in Augusta. A January 1854 account describes the “very thrilling” (and oddly named) horse Grif Edmondson taking on a field that included a filly sired by the legendary thoroughbred Glencoe. The filly came closer, but “Grif” took the advantage at the end.
The reaction of bettors was woven into the history of this race, and such bets were popular. The center of these games of chance was said to often be at a hotel on Ellis Street called “Old Shades”, which provided worn-out access to the track.
Racing and gambling, however, have not always gone hand in hand with authority.
In November 1890, The Atlanta Constitution reported Augusta Postmaster J.T. Denning refused to allow U.S. mail to be delivered The Chronicle because he had reported it from the betting pools, many missed Augusta’s arcade. This information, Denning said, violated state lottery bans.
The Chronicle protested, and U.S. Postmaster General John Wanamaker agreed with the newspaper.
“The publication of the result of horse racing or pooling, in connection with horse racing, does not render the paper containing it inadmissible,” Wanamaker said. mentioned.
Although he featured traditional racehorses, some of his most publicized competitions involved harness racing, according to accounts in The Chronicle. The 1870s saw the promotion of many such contests with “saddle horse” races mentioned as a secondary contest.
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The Lafayette Racecourse also attracts other activities. Augusta’s many gun and military clubs held marksmanship competitions and barbecues on its open space.
Like many hobbies, interest in Augusta horse and harness racing has fluctuated, as evidenced by the ebb and flow of newspaper notices.
Perhaps the last big push came in the closing months of 1882 when the newspaper noted the repairs, upgrades and improvements to the Lafayette undertaken by two investors who had “repurchased this ancient land from a trackless waste to a well-ordered fleet”.
It didn’t last. Tram developer and businessman. DB Dyer would purchase the old racetrack along with several other properties that would eventually become neighborhoods.
Today, homes and residential streets in the Laney Walker neighborhood fill the property where horses once raced for the finish line.
Bill Kirby has reported, photographed and commented on life in Augusta and Georgia for 45 years.