New, beautiful Maumee Downs

The closing of Raceway Park in 2013 brought an era of over a century of the ponies in Toledo to an end. Horse racing was not an insignificant part of my upbringing since my father, as the old joke goes, lost his first bet at the track and spent his lifetime trying to win it back.

And horse racing was always well-covered by The Blade. I knew about Fort Miami – in fact, my father worked there as either a teenager or young adult – but when I went to Mud Hens games at the Lucas County Recreation Center in the 80s, I didn’t quite put together that the main grandstand along the third-base line was the old racetrack grandstand, despite the horseshoes inland in the floor downstairs underneath the stands.

A good view of the old grandstand of Maumee Downs during a 1982 Mud Hens game, courtesy of the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, obtained from http://images2.toledolibrary.org/

It was the old grandstand of Fort Miami and then Maumee Downs, which reopened as the Downs after a huge renovation on April 23, 1958.

“They’ll be off and running Wednesday at Maumee Downs, the new horse race track at the Lucas County Fairgrounds, and it’s bound to be a glorious racing season,” their full-page ad said in The Blade of April 20, 1958.

“For one thing, you’ll have trouble recognizing the old place. The new owners, all of them veteran racing men, are doing everything possible to assure the comfort of the patrons and the quality of the runners. Most of the $287,000 improvements program will be ready on opening day.

“They range from major matters like completely resurfacing the track, blacktopping the paring lot and renovating the grandstand, barns and buildings to such details as providing hot water in the rest rooms.

Remember tote tickets? I threw enough of ’em away. Stolen from worthpoint.com.

“You’ll also like that huge new flash-total mutuals board…and the food coming out of that new kitchen.

“Fact is, it’s so new you’ll have to see it for yourself to believe it. Why not come out opening day?

And how about that flash-tote mutuals board?

“This new system, comparable to the tote systems used at several other Ohio tracks, will show, via the medium of automatic electrical computation the amounts of money wagered on every horse in the field for separate win, place and show pools,” according to this Blade story.

The American Totalisator system used 64,000 feet of wiring and was pretty much the standard for race tracks for the next thirty years. They issued tote tickets, most of which would litter the floor of the grandstand after every race.

Well, the ad worked: over 7,000 people came out on opening day and pushed $249,568 through the windows. “Officials of the Toledo-Maumee Raceways, Inc., the new operators of the track, couldn’t have been anything but pleased,” according to the Blade, despite the overcast skies and the track condition, officially listed as slow.

Prior to being Maumee Downs, the race track was named Fort Miami. Apparently a new company, Toledo-Maumee Raceways, Inc., (whose top management came mostly from Detroit) was formed to take over Fort Miami and improve the track. A Daily Racing Form columnist, Dick Kumble, wrote a column in the May 12, 1958 Daily Racing Form that he came to Maumee Downs, “Toledo’s Friendly Track,” and said that the track had noticed some positive trends.

There is nothing special being given away at Maumee. Just a change of suits, a fresh shirt, and a general overhaul which has erased many of the dull memories of the old Fort Miami. Statistic No. 1: Mutuel play is up 37 per cent. No. 2: Attendance is up 101 per cent. These totals represent one-half of this current 28-day meeting and show no inclination to reverse…

Maumee Downs lies close to the town of Maumee, but is considered part of greater Toledo, a city of more than 400,000. Figures released show that almost 75 per cent of the fans at Fort Miami came in daily from Detroit and other Michigan areas, while the new management has narrowed that figure to 25 per cent, in deference to counted license plates from the Buckeye state. Toledo, which forsook their only professional baseball representative when the Sox were moved to Wichita by the parent Milwaukee Braves, actually offers insignificant competition in the way of spectator sports. Wrestling, which drew crowds of 6,000 weekly, has been discontinued and hockey is played by the Mercurys on a minor league scale. The University of Toledo no longer offers the outstanding basketball teams they fielded in the past. Maumee Downs is surely the sport of this city where more glass is produced than any other sector in these United States…

There is an old saying that goes, “You can’t knock success.” How true it is. Try Maumee Downs for size.

And the super cool thing about this is that Keeneland and the University of Kentucky have digitized decades of Daily Racing Forms! My father, who kept years of forms in the basement, would flip if he could see this. Need those Fort Miami results from May 7, 1952? Here you go (the Daily Double paid $60 that day).

Toledo-Maumee Raceways must have been around for a while, because they hosted harness meets at Raceway Park in the 1970s at the very least – the tote tickets would say Toledo-Maumee Raceways at the top during certain times of the season and Raceway Park the other times.

Eventually, horse racing moved permanently to Raceway Park on Telegraph Rd. Its first meet was in October, 1959, and I wrote about it here. But there’s still a lot I don’t know. Did Maumee Downs close permanently after Raceway Park opened, for example? Did they compete? My dad would know and I wish he was around so I could ask him.

Meanwhile, the old grandstand went on to become Ned Skeldon Stadium and the home of the Mud Hens for many years until the Mud Hens moved to Fifth Third Field downtown in 2002. The old stadium, the old racetrack grandstand, still stands at the Lucas County Fairgrounds but has become a nuisance according to this report from WTVG in 2019.

Photo showing part of Ned Skeldon Stadium, including the old Fort Miami/Maumee Downs grandstand, at the Lucas County Recreation Center in Maumee, Ohio in November, 2019. Photo by Wikipedia user MrJacon000.

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