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Where did the horse races go?

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

Whatever happened to horse races at the Comal County Fair? They were “gone with the wind” in 1990.

From the beginning, horseracing was foremost in the Fair’s entertainment because it was a very popular activity in early Texas. But then everything changed in 1987 when Texas passed a law only allowing pari-mutuel (legalized) betting on certain tracks. The Comal County Fair Association asked to be one of those tracks, but their track could not meet the size requirements. From 1987 to 1989 attempts were made to run local races, but owners didn’t enter their horses. “The speculation was that the lack of entries was due to the fact that other tracks in Central Texas offered pari-mutuel betting”. (“It’s Fair Time”, Myra Lee Adams Goff)

Horses date back 50 million years. They were only 11 inches high with toes. They developed speed to protect themselves. If horses were still only 11 inches high, our fair could qualify for races on our short track. Picture those little critters coming around the bend!

This year’s fair will be from Sept 23-28. The first fair was in 1892 on the grounds of the newly built Krankenhaus (hospital).It was on the corner of Zink and Seguin Sts. where the Sts. Peter & Paul parking lot is located. The fair was organized as a money-maker for the new hospital and was quite successful.

The enthusiasm of the NB citizenry prompted the organization of the Comal County Fair Association. They planned their first official fair for 1893, however, it was postponed until the next year due to drought.

While researching for “It’s Fair Time”, I ran across information about the fair of 1894 and found that Harry Landa was the first fair association president and that it was held on Landa’s pasture (Landmark, formerly LCRA). In his book, “As I Remember”, Landa gives an account of his experience as a racehorse owner. He said that the Fair Association had built a race track, stalls, and a grandstand. In Landa’s words: “To be a real southern gentleman I felt that I should own a string of race horses”.

Landa purchased that string of standard bred trotters from Ashland Stock Farms in Lexington, Kentucky. One of the horses was a magnificent dark brown stallion named “Bankrupt.” Landa hired a trainer and bought the necessary paraphernalia to raise and train standard bred horses. He thought that if he was going to play the part of a real sport, he had to dress the part. Picture this: gaudy shirt and tie with an immense diamond sticking out in front. Completing the costume was an oversized cigar sticking out of his mouth.

The trainer was to try out their horses before the racing events at the CC Fair. The first event was in Austin where “Benny Boy’ was expected to win, but it cast a shoe. The trainer asked Landa to please send him $50. The next event was in Taylor where “Greased Lightning” was entered. The trainer called Landa and said that the horse had gone lame and had come in last. “Please send another $50.”

“Swift Tom” was entered in Waco and “could not be seen for the dust made by the others”. The trainer said he was moving to Dallas and to please send $50.

At this low ebb in Landa’s career as a racehorse owner, his brother Morris said he had a friend who would dispose of the horses. They were consequently traded for 30 carloads of hay which were then sold for $1,030.This was the beginning and end of Landa’s racehorse career.

For those of us that grew up immortalizing “Black Beauty”, “National Velvet”, and even “Mr. Ed.”, it was sad to say goodbye to everyday horseracing. But if wishes were horses, we’d all ride.

Match race in the 1960s with Sheriff Walter Fellers ahead of second-place Morgan Wegner. Bernie Schriewer brings up the rear.