In some ways, it looked like it could have been just another day at Beulah Park.
Eight races were held at the park on Saturday, May 3, and it was also Derby Day – a popular draw for Kentucky Derby fans to the historic Grove City racetrack over the years.
It was a slightly cool day, overcast through much of the morning and early afternoon, with the sun fighting to break through the clouds. A breeze could be felt.
A water truck sprayed the track, the dirt kicked up as horses raced across it and the All-Star Buglers performed First Call before the races. People of all ages, ranging from infants in strollers to elderly in wheelchairs, came out to watch, gamblers kept track of results on their racing forms and jockeys were perched on their steeds.
But it was not just another day. Saturday, May 3, marked the final day of racing at Beulah Park. After 91 years in operation, Ohio’s first thoroughbred track has closed.
“It’s bittersweet,” said singer-guitarist John Schwab, who has performed at Beulah Park every Kentucky Derby day for the past 14 years, and played again that final day. “It’s sad, but what can you do? Time marches on.”
Schwab, an Upper Arlington resident, has played a number of shows over the years at Beulah Park with his band, McGuffey Lane, and opened for a number of acts there, including the Beach Boys, the Everly Brothers, Dwight Yoakam and Merle Haggard. Next year, he doesn’t know what he’s going to do on Kentucky Derby day.
“It’s a fun little afternoon,” he said.
Mary Sheats of Johnstown worked at Beulah Park 55 years ago during her time on the racing circuit as a groomer. She came out on the final race day after her daughter, Pam Good, offered to drive her.
Sheats uses a wheelchair but still stands along the fence when the horses go by.
“I came to watch the races,” she said. “I’ve been clear off the race tracks since 1990.”
This was also the first time in a number of years she had been to Beulah Park – not since the park introduced simulcasts of races at other tracks across the country. Sheats said she’s not a fan of that betting.
“I think it’s too bad,” Sheats said about the closing of Beulah. “I have a lot of memories. Some good. Some bad.”
Penn National Gaming, which purchased the 200-plus acre park in 2010, is relocating the property’s racing license to a new facility near Youngstown. In recent months, Columbus-based Continental Real Estate Cos. has been identified as a developer in talks with Penn National to purchase and redevelop the site.
On Beulah Park’s website, beulahpark.com, General Manager Jim McKinney wrote this “marks the end of an era.”
“It is abundantly clear that Beulah Park has played a major role in many more lives than I had previously realized,” he wrote. “To all who have been a part of Beulah Park’s long and rich legacy, I hope your next ride will be a good one.”