Pre-1800s | Horse Racing Timeline
The Newmarket Course was the site of the first racing in America, this was located on the Hempstead Plain (or Salisbury Plain) in Nassau County. The area did not have many trees making it possible to have a site for horse racing. As soon as the British took over the New York colony, they began racing. The general belief is that the racecourse was located near the Garden City Hotel site at Stewart Avenue and Hilton Avenue in Garden City.
A Virginia tobacco planter, Samuel Gist, imported Bulle Rock a 21 year old son of the Darley Arabian, the first recorded “thorough bred” horse brought into the colonies.
Racing Around Kentucky by Lynn S. Renau
February 16, 1788, the first advertisements of stallions standing in the vicinity of Lexington appeared in the Kentucke Gazette.
“The famous horse PILGARLICK of a beautiful chestnut colour, full fourteen hand three inches high, rising ten years old, will stand the ensuing season on the head of Salt River at Captain Abr. Irvins, Mercer County, and will cover mares at a very low price of ten shillings a leap if the money is paid down, or fifteen at the expiration of the season; and twenty shillings the season in cash or thirty shillings in good trade. PILGARLICK was got by the noted imported horse Janus, his dam by old Silver-eye; and is the swiftest horse in the district of Kentucke from one to six hundred yards.” John Davenport.
In 1789, complaints by "safety minded" citizens led to the formal development of a race meet at The Commons. The men who organized this race meet, including Kentucky Statesman Henry Clay, also formed the Commonwealth’s first Jockey Club. The organization later was named the Kentucky Jockey Club in 1809.
In 1789 the Fayette County tax roles listed 9,607 horses and 56 stallions
The Kentucky Encyclopedia; pg: 310
October 21, 1793, the Trustees of Lexington issued the following statement that was published in the Kentucky Gazette and signed by John Bradford as chairman of the City's board of trustees. This action was needed because spectators were being hit with horse shoes while racing on Main Street.
"The Trustees of the town of Lexington , feeling the dangers and inconveniences which are occasioned by the practice (but too common) of racing through the streets of the inn and out lots of the town, and convinced that they are not invested with saficient [sic] authority to put a stop to such practices, recommend it to the people of the town, to call a public meeting, to consider of the means which ought to be adopted for applying a remedy to the growing evil."
October 18, 1794, The Kentucky Gazette carried a notice of a race meeting on the last Thursday, Friday and Saturday of October over a Lexington track. Thursday races were to be of four-mile heats, Friday were to be three-mile heats (excluding Thursday’s winner) and on Saturday to be two-mile heats, excluding both preceding winners.
Racing Around Kentucky by Lynn S. Renau
January 22, 1796, two years after Lexington banned racing in the streets, Mr. Simeon Buford accepted Mr. Leonard Claiborne challenge to race their prized colts. The challenge and the response were printed in the Gazette. The race took place at the William’s Brothers track on North Main Street. Results are not known. Below is Simeon’s acceptance of the challenge.
Mr. Claiborne: “It has been five months since your horse by mere accident lamed himself: And I have been told he is as well as ever; and two months, I think, a reasonable time to put him in order – But for fear two months is not enough, I will give you till the last of March. Now, sir, come down, enter into writing with me, to run at Major Blackburn’s, or at Lexington course if it can be had, on the last Thursday in March, for two or three hundred pounds, the four mile heats, or a distance – weight for age. And in so doing you will very much oblige."
Your humble Servant,
January 22, 1796
Early in 1797, a company of gentlemen met at Postlethwait’s Tavern in downtown Lexington and organized Kentucky’s first Jockey Club. A track was built later that year on land, which is now the Lexington Cemetery. The Williams Race Track held meets there for the next 12 years.
The Kentucky Encyclopedia edited by John E. Kleber; pg:310