Welcome back. The horse racing industry here in Oklahoma dates way back to before statehood and while I was in Tulsa this past Thursday to check out the new construction going on at the fairgrounds, I had the opportunity to catch a couple of races. Back in the days when Oklahoma was still known as Indian Territory, horse racing was the number one sport. Yes, according to Oklahoma Historical Society, horse racing was popular among both Native Americans and settlers. Even as recently as 2013, a survey showed that that racing brought in $223 million in revenues for the state and employed 6,400 people. The historical society also noted that at the time there were 14,000 race horses and 800 breeding horses in Oklahoma.
My research showed that the biggest jump in the racing industry took place after World War II when dozens of breeding and training facilities opened here and I didn’t know it but many towns had their own tracks back then. Of course there was no Oklahoma City Thunder, or professional baseball, just horse racing and it was the leading sport for entertainment.
In 1989 Tulsa opened its own horse racing track called Fair Meadows. Ron Shotts who was a well-known running back from the University of Oklahoma became the first racing director there. In the beginning, the horse races were held during the Tulsa State Fair. From the mid-1990s to the early 2000s Fair Meadows was a huge success with attendance averaging around 6,000 people per day. The famous soccer player Charlie Mitchell from the New York City Cosmos, opened a restaurant under the grand stands and live bands played before every race. As you can imagine parking was difficult in those days so shuttles ran back and forth from nearby malls.
The Tulsa Fairgrounds were wild and crazy all the time when the horses were running but all that changed when Indian casino gaming came into existence. Prior to the casinos, the race tracks were the only legal place to gamble but that ended. The crowds shrank and Ron retired but the track remains and friends it is still open every year from June to July, Thursday through Sunday. It’s a place where you can watch some of the finest athletes in the world run and it’s all free. Things are not as wild as they were in 1989 but it’s just as fun and for me being at the races has brought back some great memories. I worked for Ron at the track and lived right there doing security during those first few year of operation and all those stories and more will be coming out in a new book which I hope to publish this fall called “Before the Dew.”
Till next time I’ll see ya down the road……………….