The Curtain comes down on LONGACRES

21 Sep


That’s exactly 20 years ago.

Jockey Gary Stevens won the final race aboard Native Rustler.

Here’s an excerpt from The Seattle Times:

RENTON – One figure stood out after track announcer Gary Henson’s silent call of the last Longacres race.
But you couldn’t see him.
For 30 minutes, autograph seekers surrounded Gary Stevens, one of the nation’s leading jockeys.
Up from Southern California, Stevens had intended only to ride Ms. Aerosmith in the $160,000 Belle Roberts Handicap on the final day. Instead he rode in all 11 races yesterday and won three, including the final one. “I wanted to win this last race in the worst kind of way,” said Stevens, noting that both he and his winning mount, Native Rustler, were Idaho breds. “I rode this like a million-dollar race. “I’ve kind of been planning for it all summer. I planned to ride in just the Belle Roberts, but I got to thinking about it and called up my good friend Grant Holcomb (the track’s racing secretary) and asked him to try to get me on as many as he could.
“I have a lot of good memories here. People have been good to me here. I think it’s a travesty the place is closing in the first place.”  Stevens was the track’s leading rider in 1983 and ’84 before heading south and becoming one of the country’s premier jockeys.
The field of 12 3-year-olds for the final race was serenaded by bugler Dennis Schreffler’s rendition of “Auld Lang Syne.” Nearly all of the 23,358 fans who attended yesterday rose and applauded, many doffing their cowboy hats.
Vann Belvoir, winner of the Belle Roberts aboard Silver Beauty in the previous race, exhorted the crowd with several arm pumps.  Jockeys Chris Lamance and Bryson Cooper waved their helmets. The ovation lasted several minutes.
“I’ve never experienced anything like it,” said Stevens, after autographing more than 100 programs and tote tickets. “The only thing I can compare it to is going to the gate for my first Kentucky Derby.”
After going winless through the first six races, Stevens won the seventh with Lepanto, the $40,000-added Washington Championship with Military Hawk, then the final race.
One of the few people who didn’t display much sentiment was jockey Gary Baze, recovering from a spill earlier in the season.
Baze, the winningest stakes rider in Longacres history with 100 wins, spent the day in the jockeys’ room.
“There’ll be other tracks,” said Baze, who expects to return to riding at Yakima Meadows in November. “Hopefully, one of them will be nearby. Something always starts when something else ends.
Here is another excerpt from The Seattle Times:
Author: Glenn Nelson
RENTON – The crowd at Longacres Park, known around the country as one that rains enduring appreciation on its thoroughbreds, retained its quirky trait to the bittersweet end.
It rose and roared last night during the final parade to post in the track’s 59-year history. It sprang to its feet again when longtime track announcer Gary Henson bellowed, “There they go,” and 12 horses broke from the starting gate. It cheered the trotters and the tractors as they, too, made one last pass.
Lindy AlimentLongacres‘ clerk of scales for 36 years, had passionlessly registered the riders’ weights before and after each of the 11 races on the final card.  “I’m trying to savor everything,” the 64-year-old man said earlier in the day, “and hang onto a dream.” Aliment hadn’t expected sentiment to intrude on what has come to be known at  Longacres  as Getaway Day. Yet he and others broke into tears in the winners’ circle during the sentimental prelude to the 11th race.
As the thoroughbreds entered the backstretch, Henson’s gravelly voice pronounced, “Ladies and gentlemen, these horses belong to you. Listen to their final thunder.” Then he said no more.
When the horses chugged through the turn for home, the screams and exhortations built in deafening crescendo until Gary Stevens coaxed Native Rustler across the finish line first.
The hoots and hollers barely fading into the night, thousands of fans plunged through the rails, rooted up some geraniums from the infield and scooped dirt from the track. And then, except for the sweep-up of discarded betting tickets that littered the grandstands, it was over. The end of an era.
Spurred by history and free admission, they came in record numbers. The statewide attendance of 26,095, including crowds at 15 satellite wagering sites, set one track mark. The $3,399,087 wagered at all sites set another. The on-site attendance of 23,358 was the second largest in Longacres history.

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