Old Hilltop and Old Randall Park By Bernard Kroviak, CDC Gaming Reports October 20, 2020 at 9:24 pm Growing old has some disadvantages – and a few advantages as well, like gaining new perspectives on things. I don’t have much of a clue about how the human brain functions, but it seems patently obvious to me that a younger one would have less in it than, say, a 70-year-old one. Of course, retrieving that stuff gets to be a problem for us older people every once in a while, but nonetheless, I’m pretty sure it’s in there someplace. Looking back gives one a different perspective on issues and events than one gets from viewing them in the time they are occurring. I discovered that premise many years ago when looking back on how I’d been. (For instance, I once thought I was cool, but my opinion of that has been altered dramatically in light of the new stuff that is now packed into my aging brain.) This year’s Preakness was run October 3rd, another leg out of order in this abnormal 2020 Triple Crown series. The Preakness is held just outside Baltimore at the historic Pimlico racetrack. Opened in 1870, Pimlico is the second oldest track in the nation, behind only Saratoga, which predates it by six years. Its name came from a settlement of Englishmen in 1669 (remember, I used to teach American History); it has been said that those early colonists were originally from the outskirts of London, and harbored fond memories of the historic Olde Ben Pimlico’s Tavern. Saratoga has always been known informally as “the Spa,” because of the healing waters of Saratoga Springs. Pimlico unofficial moniker is Old Hilltop, primarily in tribute to a small hill that was located in the infield of the track. There, spectators would assemble to watch the races close up. That hill in the middle of the track became a noted place for social gatherings and, often a champagne brunch. In 1938, the hill was removed, ostensibly because it blocked the view of the horses run down the back stretch from the track level patrons on the grandstand side but, probably more importantly, from the television cameras which now were beginning to show races to the entire nation. The Pimlico infield today is the place where over 60,000 generally gather on Preakness day to enjoy the races, and, just like infield at the Kentucky Derby, with a few spirits as well – and with much more live music. I mention the history of Pimlico because the facility itself, and racing there, have both recently fallen on hard times. The owners of the facility – and, thus, the Preakness itself – wanted to move the race to their other, much newer, track in Laurel, Maryland, especially due to the horrible and unsafe condition of the grandstand and some unsavory plumbing issues that do nothing to enhance the racing at Pimlico. But, thanks to people of Baltimore and Maryland, a deal was made this past May to save Old Hilltop and its traditions. The deal will keep the Preakness in Baltimore, remodel the race track, and build a new multi-use facility to serve as the grandstand for the limited time that horse racing will be conducted there and which will offer myriad events the rest of the year. Soon the entire grandstand will be demolished, and construction will begin, all in hopes the new Hilltop will be ready for 2021. The Triple Crown has been run in the traditional order – Derby, Preakness, and Belmont – since 1932. Before then, the Preakness was run before the Derby 11 times; twice, they were contested on the same day. This year’s race was noteworthy not only because it was run in October, and not its standard third Saturday in May, but because a filly named Swiss Skydiver won, making her only the sixth of her gender to do so. Prior to her win, the only filly to beat the boys since 1924 was Rachel Alexandra in 2009. To top it off, Swiss Skydiver won in the second fastest time ever run, only two-tenths of a second off Secretariat’s legendary 1973 track record of 1:53 flat. Racing in the Cleveland area, my former home, has quite a history as well. At one time there were several thoroughbred tracks in and around the city, like Ascot Park between Cleveland and Akron, Cranwood on Miles Avenue, Thistledown, and of course Randall Park. The last two were located in what is now the village of North Randall, which was tucked away between the towns of Warrensville Heights and Maple Heights. The land was originally part of Forest City Farm, established as a horse breeding farm in 1883. The land was then sold, and 100 acres of it was later purchased in 1905 by another individual for his Thistle Down Farm. After building a racing facility, the remainder of the land was used to establish and incorporate North Randall. The racing offered at this new venue included both thoroughbreds and harness racing, with reported crowds of up to 17,000 in attendance. The venue fell on hard times and closed in 1935, in part due to the fact that, directly across Emery Road, there was already another track, Thistledown, in operation, which was built in 1925. The shuttered property was finally leased to the Cleveland Jockey Club, and racing was again attempted there, on a limited basis, in 1939 and 1940, but was soon halted again, only to resume in 1943 and 1944. Randall Park Racing purchased the track in 1946 for $180,000, resumed racing, and quickly began to prosper, with large crowds and better racehorses. Now much more valuable, it was sold in 1950 for $950,000, and then again in 1956 for $3.6 million (not a bad return on investment). It was ultimately sold in the mid-sixties for $4.2 million to developer Edward DeBartolo, later of NFL and 49ers fame, who was then a shopping center magnate and the owner of Thistledown, the track across the street. Randall Park continued racing until 1969 when DeBartolo – wait for it – moved all the racing to Thistledown. Soon after that transfer, the Randall property was rezoned for retail use, a move which was closely followed by the construction of Randall Park Mall.1 Today, Randall Mall, like malls across the country, has closed all its stores, and most of the huge mall structure has been demolished. The almost barren land is now often used as storage or parking for large commercial trucks, equipment, and other vehicles, but the use of the property changes quite often. (By the way, across the street, Thistledown is now a racino, and horse racing there continues to do quite well, and, with the help of the additional gaming revenue, the purses for racing have been greatly enhanced.) A filly winning this year’s Preakness was great for racing, but one can’t help but wonder why more of her gender don’t race against the boys. Long ago, horsemen were reluctant to race fillies against colts because they thought females were inferior in size and strength and that they would be intimidated or bullied by colts who might later want to impregnate them. European’s regularly ran females against males with success, and still do, but the overwhelmingly male horse owners and trainers in America still, by and large, cling to the old ways. Sound familiar? Does this thinking shed any light on why we have never had a female President, for example? Although we have had women run for President before, in a manner of speaking, prior to 2012, only two had ever been nominated to even be on the ticket of a major political party, Geraldine Ferraro as VP with Walter Mondale in 1984, and Sarah Palin as VP with John McCain in 2008. (I taught government, too.) The author at Pimlico Hillary Clinton in 2016 was the first woman to be nominated by a major political party to be President of the United States, and though she garnered three-plus million more popular votes, she was not to become the leader of the free world. I think about those good old horsemen who felt their fillies and mares were not quite good enough or smart enough to run against the boys or didn’t have the heart to compete and win. And then I recall the great Zenyatta, and Rachel Alexandra – the first filly to win the Preakness, in 2009, since the aforementioned Nellie Morse in 1924 – and female Derby winners Regret, Genuine Risk and Winning Colors, and I think about Rags to Riches battling Curlin down the stretch in 2007 to become the first filly to win the Belmont in more than a century, and I am inspired by their talent and have to wonder why some of us still default to thinking males are better and stronger across the board. How much poorer would we be if these wonderful females were never given an equal opportunity to compete against their male counterparts, and how much better could we be as a nation if those old ways of thinking were upgraded by a different and very possibly wiser perspective on the important issues that face us today? I am very happy that Swiss Skydiver won the Preakness Stakes. And who knows? Maybe her victory is a sign of things to come. Maybe it begins November 3rd. ________________________________________________________________________  Incidentally, much of this about Cleveland was taken from the excellent Encyclopedia of Cleveland History at Case Western Reserve University. If you’re interested, much more can be found here: https://case.edu/ech.