Horse Racing History of Jefferson County
Horse racing first came to Charles Town in 1786, when Col. Charles Washington,
brother of George and founder of Charles Town, began organizing races to be run
through the city's streets.
In 1913, the Charles Town Horse Show Association was established and began to
prepare its own facility on the grounds that currently house the race track.
The first of many annual shows occurred in 1914 until the official opening of
the Charles Town Race Track in 1933. This staple of Charles Town was the only
winter operating thoroughbred track in the United States at that time. Oil drums
containing chunks of blazing wood heated the grandstand as races were run in snow,
fog, or any kind of weather. As most race enthusiasts came from the Baltimore
area and beyond, the first race was sometimes held up until the train arrived.
Shenandoah Downs, constructed in 1959, was a competitor to the original track, and
was the first track in the United States to operate at night. Both tracks operated
at the same time, competing for racing dates and then eventually sharing them with
double-headers, a common occurrence.
Jockey Bill Hartack launched his Hall of Fame Career at Charles Town in 1952. He rode
24 winners during the 19-day winter meet. He went on to win 4,277 races, including the
Kentucky Derby five times, the Preakness three times, and the Belmont once.
The Charles Town Races made history in February 1969, when Barbara Jo Rubin became the first
female jockey to ever win a race in the United States.
The current facility, owned by Penn National Gaming Inc., hosts year round thoroughbred
racing and a chance to bet on Simulcast races from the best tracks across the country.
In addition, there are over 5000 slot machines to entice those not favoring the traditional
horse racing bet. The track also hosts the West Virginia Breeders Classic each fall, introduced
in 1987 by football Hall-of Famer Sam Huff, showcasing the top state-bred horses.
LOCATION: 750 Hollywood Drive, Charles Town, WV 25414