Woodlawn Race Course

Historical Marker #1820 in Louisville notes the location of Woodlawn Race Course, sometimes referred to as the "Saratoga of the West." It was a track of major importance during the 1860s.

Organized competitive horse racing in Kentucky was relatively young when Woodlawn Race Course was opened in 1859 on the east side of Louisville. The previous year, the Woodlawn Association, a stock subscription company, was formed and raised $50,000 for the venture. The track was built near the Louisville and Frankfort Railroad to accommodate easy access for guests.

In a May 1860 article from the "Louisville Daily Courier," the writer explained that the opening spring day of the track's second season was crowded. The "Courier" noted that "the attendance was very large, including many of the first ladies of our city and State." It also mentioned that "the course" was "in splendid condition."

As is today, attending the races in the early days was a chance for people to socialize and show off the latest fashions. Another article in the "Daily Courier" noted that the ladies who attended "lend a charm to the gathering, and in their bright and brilliant plumage, relieved the sober severity so common in male attire." Races also brought out the bad with the good. A traveler attending a Louisville race stated, "the city was said to be full of gamblers, this being the season at which they periodically ascend the river from New Orleans."

Woodlawn was initially successful, but one newspaper writer hinted about the doubts some held for the longevity of the race course. "Whatever may have been the doubts of the permanency of Woodlawn Course, the success of this year's meet puts to rest all doubt. It will soon rank with the first and best tracks of the county." The writer proved to be incorrect in his claims as Woodland ceased operations in 1870.

A surviving remnant of Woodlawn Race Course is the Woodlawn Vase. Robert Atchison Alexander, noted owner of Woodburn Farm, commissioned Tiffany and Company to craft the trophy, which was first presented at Woodlawn in 1861. During the Civil War the trophy was buried on the racetrack grounds for safekeeping. It now serves as the model for half-size replicas given to the annual winner of the Preakness Stakes in Pimlico, Maryland.