Major Racetracks in the United States
We all love watching the Kentucky Derby. We know that the Belmont Stakes and the Preakness Stakes complete the trio of the three races necessary for a horse to win the Triple Crown. What everyone is not as familiar with are the historic racetracks where these noteworthy races take place.
The most renowned horse races are a big deal in the sports world. Certainly, the horses in the race are featured, and rightfully so. Surely the owners, the trainers, and the jockeys all deserve some attention.
Low and behold, our favorite part of the biggest races in the sport happens to be the famous tracks that host these magical events.
We want to take you on an organized journey through the most acclaimed tracks the United States has to offer.
If you know all about the popular stops across the country, use this page as a reference guide to remind you of each track’s history and which races are hosted there. If you are new to the sport of horseracing or haven’t the faintest idea about any of the tracks listed on this page, that’s okay, too!
Grab a drink and get comfortable. Enjoy this ride through the greatest racetracks in America. You will notice that we didn’t want to take any shortcuts; we didn’t want to leave any significant information out.
That is why our team of horse racing experts took the time to create full pages on many of the most notable tracks. It wouldn’t be fair to simply give you a paragraph or two when we are discussing the most prominent racetracks across the United States.
We’ve covered ten tracks in detail and provided basic information on several more. We’ve also looked at closed racetracks in the US.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, we are starting out with a bang. When it comes to the most significant horse race in all of the land, most people will point towards the Kentucky Derby.
It takes place on the first Saturday in May and routinely receives more than 16 million viewers. None of this happens without the home of the race – Churchill Downs.
Located just a short walk from the University of Louisville campus, Churchill Downs opened in 1875 and has gained notoriety ever since. The flat track has also been home to the Breeders’ Cup in the past and will host the event again just after Halloween in 2018.
After undergoing a $121 million “facelift” from 2001-2005, the track feels almost like a museum of sorts. The deep tradition cannot be ignored, thanks to the detailed murals portraying the memorable moments over the years.
Pimlico Race Course
Even if Pimlico Race Course is a place you have never heard of, surely you have heard of the Preakness Stakes. Did you know that the second leg of the Triple Crown in horseracing is hosted at the same racetrack each and every year?
We are talking about Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, Maryland, not far from the nation’s capital. Opened in 1870, one can argue that the history runs deeper here than any other track in the world.
More than 140,000 fans showed up for the 2017 edition, breaking a record that was set the previous year.
There is no shortage of excitement when it comes to Pimlico. The one-mile dirt oval has been hosting races for nearly 150 years, and we don’t expect them to stop anytime soon.
We talked about the first two races a horse has to win to claim the coveted Triple Crown. Next on our list is the final hurdle a jockey and his horse must go through in order to make history. Exactly three weeks after the Preakness Stakes is run, the horses make the 215-mile journey northeast to Elmont, New York, to race in the Belmont Stakes.
The track is home to many memories – perhaps none more memorable than Secretariat’s 1973 record-setting performance.
The time of 2:24 that Secretariat ran that day still stands today as the fastest 1.5-mile run on dirt. His victory of 31 lengths was absolutely astounding, making Belmont Park the home to arguably the most incredible moment in horseracing history.
Opened in 1905, the property has undergone massive renovations and is currently in the process of some serious expansion. The New York Islanders hockey franchise will start playing their home games at Belmont Arena in 2020.
The indoor stadium is being built essentially in the backyard of the horse track and will feature 18,000 seats, not to mention a hotel and retail stores for shopping. If Belmont Park wasn’t “grand enough” before, this ramped-up development escalates the area to a whole other level.
Saratoga Race Course
Saratoga Springs, New York, is home to one of the oldest, most prized horseracing tracks in all of the United States. You have to go all the way back to 1863 to find the year that Saratoga Race Course opened for business.
The track, sometimes referred to as “The House of Upsets” and “The Spa,” has witnessed some extraordinary moments over the last 100+ years. Man o’ War, a horse on the very short list of the greatest Thoroughbreds, won 20 of the 21 races he ran.
His only loss came at Saratoga Race Course where a horse fittingly named Upset captured the victory.
There is no doubt that this racetrack is one of the most esteemed that has ever been built. Countless races have been contested here, most notably the Travers Stakes and the Whitney Handicap.
Fair Grounds Race Course
Do you want to learn about one of the oldest racetracks, period? How about the second-oldest track in North America? Fair Grounds Race Course in New Orleans, Louisiana, officially opened in 1852, but you can actually date back to 1839 for the origins of the track.
During its early years, the name of the track changed repeatedly. It was called the Louisiana Race Course, the Union Race Course, and the Creole Race Course, before finally settling on “Fair Grounds Race Course” in 1863.
We have seen different leadership in command of the racetrack, and it is currently under the control of Churchill Downs Inc. The “Louisiana Derby” is probably the most well-known race that takes place at Fair Grounds, although a bevy of other races are run here year-round.
It isn’t all about horse racing at this prevalent property near the Bayou. The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a massive commemoration of music that takes place on back-to-back weekends in the spring every year in New Orleans.
The Fair Grounds Race Track is the destination of this fun-filled extravaganza.
A long time ago, Queens, New York, needed a racetrack to house Thoroughbred racing. The solution to the problem came in 1894 when the Aqueduct Racetrack was opened. If you read the title and see the root “aqua,” meaning water, you are on to something.
The racetrack sits on the grounds that were used to transport water from eastern Long Island to the Ridgewood Reservoir.
Despite horseracing being widely popular throughout the state of New York, the Aqueduct is actually the only racetrack within the Big Apple’s city limits. While the track may not be used for hosting the biggest races of the year, there are still three Grade-I races that are run at the Aqueduct every year.
It is unique in the sense that there are “three tracks in one” located on the property. The focal point is the 1 1/8-mile dirt track, but there are two smaller turf tracks within the circumference. We saved the most unique part of the Aqueduct for last.
The Resorts World New York City is a casino that is attached to the Aqueduct Racetrack. It opened in 2011 and is still the only legal place to place wagers in the entire city.
Arlington International Racecourse
Chicago is a big city, isn’t it? It’s big enough to have plenty of suburbs and surrounding towns. One of those places is Arlington Heights, and they are known for having a pretty sweet racetrack. It’s called the Arlington International Racecourse, and it has been there since 1927.
One of their “claims to fame” is that it was the site of the first horse race that featured a purse in excess of $1 million. It is a 1 1/8-mile oval-shaped track full of dirt and can seat more than 50,000 spectators when needed. Don’t worry about running out of space for horses, either.
The “backstretch” is the name of the area used to stable the horses, and the one in Arlington has room for more than 2,000 Thoroughbreds.
The Arlington Million is one of three Grade-I races that are run at the racecourse every year, vaulting Arlington International into the category of major US racetracks.
Santa Anita Park
If you get caught staring into the scenic San Gabriel Mountains, you aren’t the only one. Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California, offers the most breathtaking views that you will encounter while watching a horse race.
The park that opened in 1934 isn’t just known for having one big race every year. There have been numerous large-scale events held here. The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles used Santa Anita Park as the location to host their equestrian events.
The Breeders’ Cup has been held at the racetrack at Sana Anita Park eight different times, most recently in 2016.
Santa Anita Park not only has a 1-mile dirt track, but they have a turf course on the hillside that is slightly shorter than one mile. This is one of the few horseracing tracks in the country to have such a unique and versatile setup.
There is a reason why the Santa Anita Derby and the Santa Anita Handicap are such prestigious and can’t-miss races every year. It mostly has to do with the gorgeous and well-thought-out design of the estate.
Unlike some of the previous racetracks that were built before 1900, Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, New Jersey, wasn’t created until much later. 1976 was the first year Meadowlands opened to the public.
Known to locals simply as “The Big M,” the track isn’t solely known for Thoroughbred racing like many other tracks. It also features harness racing, which is another popular form of horse racing in the US.
While the Thoroughbred racing calendar is centered around the Triple Crown races, harness racing has some major races of their own. The Trotting Triple Crown is a series of three biggest races in harness racing, and it all starts with the Hambletonian Stakes. It takes place at – you guessed it – Meadowlands Racetrack.
A physical aspect of the racetrack that many appreciate is the lake that is positioned right in the center of the 1-mile dirt track.
Del Mar Racetrack
Talk about a pretty setting for a horse race. Del Mar Racetrack in sunny, southern California is a “gem” of a property, and there just happens to be some really exhilarating horse races there. Located just north of San Diego, the oceanfront town is home to some of the major Thoroughbred races throughout the year.
The Del Mar Fairgrounds broke ground on the racetrack in the 1930s, before finally opening in 1937. The project was led by Bing Crosby and had Paramount Studios as their sponsor.
One of the coolest elements of this racetrack compared to the others on this list is the flexibility of the events that can be held here. It isn’t all about horseracing in Del Mar, folks.
Musical concerts are held on site, as well as many family-oriented activities. Camp Del Mar is a terrific chance for parents and children to hang out, and so is Family Fun Day. Held on the weekends, Family Fun Day offers endless entertainment opportunities on the infield of the track.
If you are looking to not only enjoy a “primetime” Grade-I race but also have one heck of a time, we suggest checking out Del Mar Racetrack. You won’t be disappointed.
Other US Racetracks
While the ten racetracks above might be the most well-known race tracks in the country, by no means are they the only significant ones. Here are some others that are noteworthy for one reason or another.
Fairmount Park Racetrack
- Location: Collinsville, Illinois
- Year Opened: 1925
Fairmount Park Racetrack is known for hosting Thoroughbred flat racing. Harness racing also took place here up until 1999. As many as 230+ days per year were used to host horse races in the past. This number has decreased to about 90 days per year lately.
- Location: Freehold Borough, New Jersey
- Year Opened: 1854
Unofficially opened sometime before 1840 and officially in 1854, Freehold Raceway is the oldest raceway in the entire United States region. Home of the Cane Pace race, this place is considered sacred grounds for harness racing.
- Location: Hallandale Beach, Florida
- Year Opened: 1939
Thanks to their on-site casino, Gulfstream Park is one of the more notable horse tracks in the United States of America. Home of the Sunshine Million Series and the Florida Derby, Pegasus Park and its landmark statue sit front and center.
The property is so grand that concerts and other large-scale outdoor activities have been held at the venue.
Hialeah Park Race Track
- Location: Hallandale Beach, Florida
- Year Opened: 1922 (reopened in 2013)
The Hialeah Park Race Track has no shortage of action. It is home to the popular Quarter Horse races, which are shorter, “sprint-like” versions of the horse races that are most commonly watched.
Located on Native American land in Florida, the Hialeah Park Casino drives a lot of foot traffic and interested eyes towards the horse races.
Keeneland Race Course
- Location: Lexington, Kentucky
- Year Opened: 1936
Talk about a nice racetrack; Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, was voted as the #1-rated Thoroughbred racetrack in their entire continent. It was even designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1986.
The 2003 film Seabiscuit shot the majority of their scenes at Keeneland. Incidentally, the 2010 film Secretariat also used the Race Course in Lexington to house many of the shots used for the movie.
Monmouth Park Racetrack
- Location: Oceanport, New Jersey
- Year Opened: 1870
You have to go all the way back to 1870 to find the opening date of Monmouth Park Racetrack. Sitting in Oceanport, New Jersey, Monmouth Park has been home to many admired races.
The Haskell Invitational and United Nations Stakes garner plenty of attention, as does the Jersey Derby, which is run at the racetrack in Monmouth Park.
Television Series such as Law and Order and The Equalizer have used the racetrack as a backdrop for shooting scenes.
- Location: Hot Springs, Arkansas
- Year Opened: 1904
What do you know – another racetrack with a casino right on the premises. One noticeable difference on this 1-mile oval dirt track is the absence of an interior turf course.
The clubhouse of the property was designed by the same gentleman (Zachary Taylor Davis) who designed both of the famed ballparks in Chicago – Comiskey Park (no longer open) and Wrigley Field.
If you are in Arkansas and are looking for a place to gamble, look no further than Oaklawn Park.
- Location: Yonkers, New York
- Year Opened: 1899
People flock to Yonkers, New York, to check out Yonkers Raceway and the Empire City Casino. Owned and operated by the same Rooney family that manages the Pittsburgh Steelers NFL franchise, Yonkers Raceway has been the site of a plethora of big-time races over the years.
If a standardbred harness race isn’t taking place at Yonkers, you can bet a concert or some other type of grand-scale event is. Whether it is for a concert or to film a television show, Yonkers Raceway has had no problem filling seats throughout the entire year.
Closed US Racetracks
As you can see throughout our list of the most famous horse racing tracks across the United States, they all seem to have one thing in common. They have all been around for quite some time. The unfortunate part about historic landmarks of ANY kind is that sometimes they disappear.
In this part of our guide, we keep track of major US racetracks that have had to close down. Fortunately, at this moment in time, that has only happened to one notable track.
Hollywood Park Racetrack
Just because it is no longer in commission doesn’t mean we could just leave out one of the more notable tracks to ever be constructed on US soil.
Hollywood Park Racetrack in Inglewood, California, opened during the summer of 1938 and held an abundance of huge, Grade-I races over the next 85 years.
The Breeders’ Cup landed at Hollywood Park Racetrack on three separate occasions (1984, 1987, and 1997). The Hollywood Gold Cup, the American Oaks Invitational, and the Hollywood Derby are just a few of the prominent races that took place on the hallowed grounds a few miles outside Los Angeles.
If you happen to be flying into Los Angeles, you will have no trouble seeing the land that the famous park sat on.
Located less than three miles from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), the grounds are actually being used as the foundation for the Rams’ and Chargers’ new football stadium.
Los Angeles Stadium at Hollywood Park is set to debut in 2020 and will undoubtedly be one of the more technologically advanced stadiums in all of America. If you have played the Grand Theft Auto video game series, you may have noticed Hollywood Park Racetrack in the background.
When a racetrack is as noteworthy as this one is, it leaves its mark behind. It might be permanently closed, but it will never be forgotten.
There you have it! An organized and descriptive catalog covering the most illustrious racetracks in all of the United States. When it comes to horseracing in America, you think of the most significant races of all.
The Kentucky Derby, the Preakness Stakes, and the Belmont Stakes make up the Triple Crown of Thoroughbred racing.
Not only did we cover the historic tracks that these races are run at every year, but we scoured the list of “dirt ovals” from coast to coast. The tracks that simply needed more than a few paragraphs to describe are afforded their own unique pages that go into great depth.
In order to fully appreciate the biggest horse races throughout the year, you need to have an understanding of how important the tracks that host these events are. Our goal with this guide was to accomplish that for you.
Chances are, you landed on this page hungry for stories and facts about the most acclaimed horseracing tracks. Our intention was to give you a full plate.
Bookmarking this page is a good idea, as you can use it to reference bits of information as the races come up during the year.