Raceland: The Million Dollar Oval
By: Natasha Collier
Before Keeneland there was Raceland. The fifth racecourse built in Kentucky, it is the namesake of the town in which it was built, known as Chinnville, and formally changed to Raceland in 1926. J.O. “Jack” Keene was the proprietor of the venture and created a lavish design, nicknamed the “Million Dollar Oval” because construction of the course cost around one million dollars and included an astounding 350 acres, 22 stables, a rail spur, and its own jail. The 1.5 mile-long track was circled by a white fence of wood and iron, as well as rambling roses. The bridle paths and the front lawn were paved in red tapestry brick matching the clubhouse, stewards’ stand and judge’s stand.
Raceland made its debut on July 4, 1924 with a first-class boxing match of which 5,000 spectators were in attendance. The first race, titled the “Ashland Handicap,” was held on July 10 and drew a crowd of 15,000. The first “Raceland Derby” ran on July 19, 1924 with 27,000 in attendance and featured Kentucky Derby winner (and race favorite) Black Gold as well as Bobtail, winner of the first Raceland Derby, Post Dispatch and Altawood. Having gained great notoriety, a leading racing forum boasted that it could be “the Saratoga of the middle-west” and toted the amenities of the track and surrounding town. Three more annual derbies followed in the remaining years of operation, totaling five races at the track.
Financial difficulties forced the closure of the track after its last season in 1928. It was sold and torn down in 1937. The clubhouse still stands along US-23 and a historical marker was put in place on May 26, 2004 to commemorate the track’s 80th anniversary.
Photo courtesy of American Byways by Sherman Cahal