St. Louis has a long and thrilling history of horse racing that can be traced back to the 18th century. Right now, the options for racing fans here are limited, but are there signs that the glory days of the past may return?
The History of Horse Racing in the City
1767 is given as the date when the first official horse race was run in St. Louis. A quarter-mile track was said to exist on the prairie next to the settlement of that era. While races were mainly for entertainment purposes, it wasn’t unknown for bets to be placed.
In the following years, up to 20 different race tracks sprung up around the city. These included tracks on St. Charles Rock Road and Manchester Road. A local jockey club seems to have been formed in the 1820s.
St. Louis was home to the country’s first night races and it is interesting to see that the St. Louis Browns baseball team had a horse racetrack in their ground. Perhaps the highlight of the racing scene here came with the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair Handicap, with a stunning $50.000 purse that was far greater than the $4.500 on offer for the Kentucky Derby that year.
Local brewery owner Otto Stifel won the race, with his horse Colonial Girl. Organized betting was made illegal the following year, in 1905. Delmar Race Track became the last active race track here but by 1911 it was closed for good, following police raids and arrests.
The Current Situation
Betting on horses in Missouri isn’t possible at the time of writing. One of the few options for fans of this sport is to visit Fairmount Park Racetrack, in nearby Collinsville, Illinois. This track no longer offers standardbred harness racing, but it does feature thoroughbred flat racing.
The most famous race held here was the Fairmount Derby, which started up in 1926 and had a stop-start history until it ended for good in 2006, after an attempt to change the name to the St. Louis Derby.
The number of racing events here have declined in recent years, from over 200 per year at the end of the 20th century to under 100, with many visitors now going alone to bet on simulcast races from around the rest of the country.
While people in other parts of the US can look online for Kentucky Derby odds on horses and place bets, this is still not allowed in Missouri. Pari-mutuel betting on horse races has to be carried out at the racetrack, either on a race being held there or on a simulcast from elsewhere.
If you have a VPN on your computer or you are in another state, you can bet on the upcoming September race here: https://www.twinspires.com/kentuckyderby/odds
What Does the Future Hold?
Could St. Louis once again become a thriving horse racing destination like it was in the glory days of this sport? There have been numerous plans over the years, to expand Fairmount or to create new racetracks in other places.
Any boost to the industry here is likely to be linked to the passing of new laws that make it easier for people to bet. Certainly, there have been numerous attempts over the years to introduce new bills that could change the legal landscape by increasing the ways we can place bets.
At the moment, online betting is still illegal in Missouri, while casino gambling remains limited in its nature. However, it seems clear that there is still a great love of horse racing in St. Louis that could lead to the demand for more options to increase over time.
It is certainly worth keeping an eye on the latest legal developments, to see what might happen next in this historic industry.
Mick Lite served for 12 years in the military and is now an entrepreneur and photographer. Has worked as the official scorer and social media manager for the River City Rascals, Statistician for the Missouri Monsters and St. Louis Attack arena football teams, and as the Team Photographer and social media consultant for the St. Charles Chill, SLU Hockey, St. Louis Slam, and Gateway Grizzlies.