Stopped at Northampton Saturday and memories still linger

31 thoughts on “Stopped at Northampton Saturday and memories still linger”

  1. Thanks for sharing – I’ve wondered what it looked like today after having shed its racing past. A couple of side bits:

    For contrast Equidaily still has the pics they took at Northampton when Zippy Chippy made his 100th lifetime start (Sep 10, 2004)

    And NYT/DRF writer Bill Finley did this piece on the demise of the Mass Fair circuit. Least anyone wax poetically about the last few years of the racing. It was rock bottom as it gets sadly for sore runners who couldn’t go anywhere else. In 1979 an 18-yr old (yes 18-yr old horse) – Golden Arrow – ran at Great Barrington. As a whole for its entire history the fairs were amazing stuff.

    1. Interesting piece….Brings back memories of another time. I raced there a few times and always enjoyed it. I last raced there in 2004. I ran a horse named Adventurous, and on September 10th of that year Adventurous won a race and set a new track record for 5 furlongs. The old record stood for about 30 years. The funny thing was, there was no mention of a new track record being set, but, instead the news was all about a horse called Zippy Chippy who on that same day made his 100th lifetime start and remained undefeated, having never won a race in his entire career.

  2. I can remember attending the races at Northhampton on a Sunday in 2004 and being amazed at all the discarded tickets near a mutuels pavillion in the infield. Twenty dollars, $40, $120, etc. They would typically handle $140k – $170k live in their last year, numbers that even tracks Hawthorne in Chicago or the Meadowlands can’t hit on some days. And after the decision was made to end racing, they admitted that they made money on live racing – which as a person with some experience on the front side – is not an easy thing. That was the saddest part about the end there.

  3. Great shots. I was there over 30 years ago. Every race but the feature was for $1,500 claimers. The feature was for $2,500 claimers. It was great fun. And the place looks the same as I remember it. In fact, the place looks like they could hold a card without too much work.

  4. We met a couple on our honeymoon in 1972 that lived in Northampton. They invited us to come up to the Fair that Labor Day weekend. Being an avid race fan, I accepted. Basic handicapping rarely worked at the fair. If you had speed to the first turn, you probably won. Knowing if your horse was lame was the toughest part. Fron 1972 to 2005 we never missed Labor Day weekend at the fair. I miss all vendors on the Midway. Dandy Dan the Candy Man, where they sold you strips of tickets with numbers on them and then had a person throw a dart on a board covered with numbers to determine who won the pile of candies. The dime throw into glasses on to a revolving wooden disk. They also had the best French Fries and Fried Dough. You could sit in the Grandstand or go under the track into the infield to watch the races. It was always crowded over the weekend. Yeah, I miss it.

  5. Thanks for all the comments; it’s amazing how this small track–and the fair concept of racing–has affected all of us in some way or another. The additional links and stories here really flesh out my post.

  6. I live 20 mles from northhamptom, every labor day I use to go to the fair. Going to the fair was like going to your high school reunion,every year meeting old friends who have something in commom betting horses at the fair,You had tommy maeda the jockey who was the best for a good number of years at the first turn, carlso the king of the fairs
    as a trainer,he would talk his horse up to the crowd then we watch him bet someother horse. It seem like every race the fix was in the 5f races the inside would win #1 and 2
    the 6 and a bit speed won because no horse could pass the leader.
    I spent over 20 years there along with the other fairs in the mass. area and every labor my heart grows heavy thinking about all the good times that are gone forever.
    One note:fall of 2011 they are spending money at the fair to fix the place up someone said that they mite try to run horses there in the future, we all can hope.

    1. Dan Keno,

      I am a frequent visitor to all of the neat little fair tracks still around the country. Northampton was the best experience bar none.

      Please don’t tease us. Are they really even considering the return of racing? Did you hear this from someone on the fair board and management who would be able to make it happen? Any more details would be greatly appreciated. I can be reached at if you want to e-mail me. From your pictures the track and rail look real good, not what I would have expected after multiple years after they decided to end racing. Long-term they were even thinking about tearing down the neat wooden grandstand.

  7. In thinking about the Massachusetts Fairs, I was reminded of the races at Marlboro in Maryland. It must have been 20 years ago or so that I attended a couple of days at Marlboro. It was a fair type atmosphere and was also a fun way to spend the day. Does anyone know if the track is still there?

  8. I have a cherished memory/story for you Northhampton Fair horse racing lovers. I owned a horse named Cuff The Quote who raced at the final meet. Cuff took Frank Amonte around them tight turns for a 25dola casher! One day shy of Frank turning 70yrs old. Then 3days later they got crowded an just missed, finishing 2nd at even money. My trainer, Dennis Strong, had to mak a jock change when he thought Frank had injured himself the day before we were to race in the final race of the historic fair. Frank showed up for the mount an Dennis had to tell him we had already made the change. Well Frank, needless to say was not very happy, he new Cuff was on his game an another win on him would make him the first jock ever to guide a horse to the winners circle at the tender age of 70. Sadly my trainer stayed with the replacement and we won going away at 3/5. Cuff was retired after that great run of 3 races in 10 days an I still ache that Mr Amonte was not our rider on that final day at Northhampton Fair

    1. Hello sir,
      Although I do understand your heartache for this man I know Dennis and he will only do what is best for the jockey and the horse. Being a retired jockey himself, he understands how stubborn jockeys can be even though they are hurt they try to hide their pride as well as the injury and can sometimes do more harm than good. Dennis is my father and respectively has done great things for so many horses, jockeys , and owners as well. You had one of the best trainers ever.

      1. Hi gia I whole heartedly agree with everything you hav said! I was just googgling your your dad and im very glad to have stumble on his daughter. I love tour dad! I had one of the best times of my life when He and a buddy of mine drove to maryland to pickup a horse that we were going to keep at your dads for the winter then race him at suffolk in the spring. That 11 hr journey was filled with wonderful storie of your dad His riding days were the most exciting for me but everything out of his mout
        h made the ride too short for me! How is he? I can be reached at love to hear from Dennis or you thanx Harry

  9. I’m 45 yrs old and when I was 10-15 yrs I went to North Hampton Fair with my dad jockey Tommy Maeda known as King of the Bullrings. learned to ride and groom horses. Did the circuit with dad Marshfield, (near cape) North Hampton, lastly Great Barrington which is where my Mom is from.(where they met) It was the best time of my life.

  10. Such sadness. It would take a miracle for the Fairboard to allow racing again. This was a very unique racing fair and the most enjoyable I had found around the country. The only MA fair that has even a remote chance of racing again is the Brockton Fair.

  11. I stopped by the fairgrounds earlier this month and I was just heartbroken at what I saw. I always felt there was a miniscule chance that any of the Mass fairs could race again as long as the track was still there. Those chances are now gone at Nmp. They built 3 huge buildings where the backstretch of the track used to be. Google maps has the new satellite photo of the fairgrounds. It would take a miracle for Great Barrington to come back to life, so the best shot at ever seeing fair racing in Mass remains with Brockton.

  12. A wonderful post and yes time has stood still the HAMP fair looks the same I am 64 years old and frequented the fair all the time Of course I remember tommie maeda.. The food the memories so wonderful a better time no doubt.. Even tho I left northampton and was in the Air Force for 21 years and retired in New jersey never missed a labor day at the races.. My dad was a teller back in those hay days 60s and 70s…My friend R.I.P. pete curtis had a home a fair st and I would park in his driveway and walk to main gate..I was there for the last ever race in 2005 these days will be missed..Never forget while in northampton high school had my dad play a 5 8 daily double only to run down after classes and see I WON 352 dollars and change.. Boy was I HOOKED on the fair races.. John Vinelli

  13. yes , i agree, good article! having been born and raised here in northampton, we spent every labor day weekend there as a child and as an adult. there are some tremendous memories of some very happy days , of those beautiful fall days, with the most wonderful blue skies, the smell of fall and most of all , the horses were back in town! time spent with family and friends gathered for the annual event was almost a rite here at our little track. gone are those days now, as are alot of those people, but, the memories are fond and filled with sadness over the loss of our little piece of the great racing world!

  14. Thank you all for those great memories. I worked as a Mutuels Clerk on weekends in the Infield every year from 1977 till the closing in 2005. 29 great years of unbelievable racing stories. Bill Finley’s stories are all accurate. In fact, he sat right behind me many days as we watched amazing feats of trickery and thievery foiled on the racing public. Fortunately, for the masses, most of that ended when the track switched over to the cash-sell machines. My thumbs still hurt from trying to press the buttons on the old Daily Double and Exacta machines! Many a soul cricked their necks while standing around the corner from the $50 machines to get a glimpse of what the wise guys were betting.

    If you were a regular at the Fairs, how could you ever forget Dan Dan The Candy Man or Anna’s Fried Dough. So many more great memories!

  15. i grew up in Weymouth first bet at 12 years old (2/5 shot riden by jose pelez ran out) Still have the ticket august 1963.The police chiefs wife thought we had tips so she bet for us .We sold cokes ran scams hustled newspapers anything to get money to bet. We went to Marshfield and Brockton also. When I graduated high school I went to UMASS. 5 miles from nhmp and 40 from gbf.. three years in a row lost all my money for school there,didn’t care WE even went to Berkshire downs 1 summer. I know it will never come back but standing on a dumpster watching a bet down maeda fave beat the gate and roll home is and was more fun than a box seat at saratoga

  16. I worked at Marshfield fair
    .. Weymouth… Northampton… Great Barrington… As a teen…. Remember lots of horses… Trainers…. Ex boys/girls…And jockeys….. Miss them all.
    .I have find memories of the backside…. And some horrifying memories as well…. Rough life for people and animals… But most of us grew up in it and loved it… I will never forget the wonder… The hard work or the talent of the animals and the people…. The dedication was amazing…. I am a better person for having known them all…. Love to all who are still around…. And to those who have moved past the finish line.

  17. lived next to the fair 73-85 what a great time as a kid knew how to get in for free. just walk in by the horses and act like you belonged there and you were in. stopped every day after school picked up those old tickets got stamped and came back later that night saw how they fixed the games and loved how the whole town was a buzz picking there daily double picks and having a runner go make there bets as they worked.loved the fair. lost 100.00 on a 6 horse race show ticket Mr.pontac he had won 6 in a row 4th that day i was 12. i started with 20 bucks and kept hitting show bets till that race.

  18. Love the fair memories. My Mom and Dad always said that the racing part
    of the fair was for drunkin bums. I was fascinated by the colors of the jockey’s
    and the thunder of the sound around the final turn. At age 14 me and a friend
    rode our bicycles from Springfield (15 miles) and got elderly men to make $2.
    bets for us. Not only is the fair circuit one of my best memories but it led me to
    follow this great sport for the next 40yrs and counting . AP Triple Crown winner
    just won today at Monmouth !

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