The Harlem Race Track (originally called the Harlem Jockey Club) was opened in 1894 at Hannah and Roosevelt Road (then known as Collier and 12th Street) in Harlem (now Forest Park).
The track ran along Roosevelt with the grandstand near Hannah on an 80-acre property. It was sold to the Chicago World Fairgrounds Association, and it was managed by “Blind” John Condon who would eventually own the track. The track was controversial at the time, as the public outcry against gambling delayed its scheduled opening by a few years.
In a 1899, an injunction against the Harlem jockey club and associates stated “5,000 people congregate at that the track every day … the worst of disorderly and criminal classes … [they] loiter and loaf around the Village of Harlem … and many disreputable resorts have sprung up throughout the Village of Harlem.”
Serving horseracing fans far beyond the boundaries of Harlem, there was an express train from the Loop that would help people get to the track and back, called the “race track special.”
In 1900, Isaac Lewis, the 17-year-old who won the 1887 Kentucky Derby, had moved to Harlem and was as a groom at the track, and was one of the notable African Americans from Kentucky who lived in Proviso and worked at the track.
Although the track was used for horse racing, as early as 1902 the track was also hosting automobile racing. By 1905 horse racing and gambling were banned but the track continued to host automobile races at least through 1910 while it was converting to a golf course.