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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: They're at the post

    June 16, 1897: This was a happy day for lovers of thoroughbred horses, and people who liked to bet on them.

   It's the first day that Fort Erie Race Track was open for business.

   The Fort Erie Jockey Club had broken ground on a new race track the previous November, and it took about seven months to complete the track. On a lovely summer Wednesday, the facility became open for business.

   Ellesmere was the first winner in Fort Erie history, with a jockey by the name of Sullivan (the rest of his name apparently is lost to antiquity). Wordsworth was second and Miss Lillian finished third. Ellesmere's owner picked up $300 for the afternoon's work.

   The track ran races for 34 days that summer. Then in the fall, it came back for a 16-day fall meet.

   Northern Dancer might have been the best horse ever to run at the border oval. His first win came at the Fort as a two-year-old in 1963. Then a year later, it was on to Louisville to take the Kentucky Derby.

--- Budd Bailey 

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