“Therrrrrrre they go!”

The Most Exciting Race Ever Held at the Northern Maine Fair Racetrack

Dena L. Winslow, Ph.D.

Copyright 2022



 

“And they’rrrrre OFFFF!!!” Boomed the deep voice of the announcer at the horse races held at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds for many years, “Therrrre they go!” the announcer would add, excitement filling his voice as he announced each race. 

Horse racing has been a significant part of summer and fall activities in northern Maine since it was held in the streets even before the first “North Aroostook Agricultural and Horticultural Society Cattle Show and Fair” was held October 8-9, 1851. Many communities built race tracks for horse racing, including Ashland, Caribou, Fort Fairfield, and of course, Presque Isle. The sport was once so popular that the former owner of my house on State Street in Presque Isle told me that when the grand stand at the Northern Maine Fairgrounds was filled to capacity, and no more spots were available on the grounds, local residents would bring lawn chairs and picnic lunches and sit in the third floor attic of this house to watch the horse races out the big window once located there. 

But, times change, and progress is inevitable, with crowds reportedly upwards of 50,000 people in days past no longer attending the horse racing events held at the Northern Maine Fair, it seems appropriate that the former race track area be modified to meet current needs and interests of the community, as was recently announced.

Although there is very little interest in horse racing any more locally, that was definitely not the case in former days. Everyone has heard of the famous race horse from the 1920’s, the John R. Braden, who set records and was the only horse to visit the Northeastland Hotel in Presque Isle, where he was served oats in a silver bowl. So famous and beloved was this race horse that a street, a movie theatre, and even a “safe” cigar were named after him!

there they go 1

 

The beloved John R. Braden died unexpectedly on November 20, 1929 and was buried in a cement vault in the infield of the current race track at the Northern Maine Fair with a monument stone and flower garden - complete with a fountain - commemorating the location for many years. However, in more recent years, the fountain/memorial garden was removed, and the monument stone was re-located to a new spot behind the Forum building on the Fair grounds. The location of the memorial garden was converted to serve as part of the demolition derby competition at the Fair. However, the remains of the famous race horse remain buried there still under the present demolition derby area.

“Fearless” and “Bloodmont”

But, as famous and well-known as the John R. Braden was in the 1920’s, there were a pair of horses that were equally, if not more famous than the Braden in the 1890’s. They drew huge crowds of people to see them compete against each other. Fort Fairfield was very proud of their horse, “Fearless,” and Presque Isle was equally proud of their horse, “Bloodmont.” These races between the two famous horses were more than competitions between two well-matched horses, but were also friendly competitions between the two towns.


Fearless owned by Jessie Drew

No pictures have been located of “Bloodmont,” who was owned by Thomas Phair of Presque Isle, but the horse was described as a deep chestnut brown color with a black mane and tail, a strongly built horse with a deep breast, and broad-stout shoulders. “Fearless” was described as being jet-black in color with a high head, long neck, and erect ears. It must have been exciting to see those two beautiful animals competing against each other in the 1890’s!

With record breaking crowds assembled to watch the highly anticipated race between these two horses in 1893, people climbed on the fences at the Fairgrounds and stood in their carriages to try to get a better view of the racetrack. There was not even standing room for the race, according to G. M. Park, who described the events that day. “From the word go, all eyes were centered on these horses… For a while, it was neck to neck and nose to nose, as these horses passed the quarters [distance mark for the quarter miles] and made the first half mile. All was silent, men and women held their breath as the horses passed the first and second quarters of the home stretch.” It was then that “Fearless” broke as they headed toward the finish line – racing neck and neck. No one could have anticipated what happened next!

O. B. Griffin described the scene, “The crowd witnessed one of the most magnificent bursts of speed they had ever seen. ‘Fearless’ swept by the field, as if they were outclassed; as they passed the grandstand, he led the field around the turn out of sight while the grandstand crowd stood and tore things to pieces. He did not appear again, but left the track, ran into a double wagon in which his owner, Jessie Drew, was standing, smashed the sulky to pieces and ran away up town.”

Demonstrating outstanding sportsmanship, Thomas Phair withdrew his horse, “Bloodmont” from the race after “Fearless” broke through the fence and ran off downtown. He said he did not want to win under those circumstances. Reports were that the public nearly rioted because people were upset about this turn of events.

However, the following year, in 1894, “Fearless” and “Bloodmont” were at the starting line at the Northern Maine Fair race track once again. This time, there was tremendous interest in this particular race and even larger crowds had assembled to watch. G. M. Park wrote, “there was the same intense interest, and feelings ran high, and everything centered around this race. It was by far the most exciting race ever witnessed upon the Fair grounds. The weather was fine, cool and favorable for good work. Both horses and drivers did their best. It was again, sometimes, neck and neck and nose to nose, till they were on the home stretch, when “Bloodmont’s” driver let him out and urged him on. All eyes were on them, and “Bloodmont” took the lead – men and women cheered, threw up their hats, waved their handkerchiefs as “Bloodmont” passed under the wire and won the race handsomely.”

Parks goes on to describe the scene, “Cheer followed cheer, was taken up again and repeated until men were hoarse. And ‘Bloodmont’ was led back to the judges’ stand, some lady friends stepped forward and crowned him victor with a collar of beautiful flowers slipped over his bridle and neck.”

To commemorate the victory of his horse, in 1895, Tom Phair, “Bloodmont’s” owner, offered to build a new grandstand and judges’ stand. He paid $1,600 for them, which was a lot of money at that time. That grandstand was used until 1912 when the larger one was built which remains today.

 

1892 Horse Race
Double Decker GrandstandThe Grandstand As It Exists Today