SCARBOROUGH – Lloyd Johnson was an 11-year-old boy when his father took him to opening day at Scarborough Downs in the summer of 1950.

Children weren’t allowed inside back then. So he sat on the hood of the car and watched from the first turn behind the fence.

It was all it took.

“When you’re 11, everything is exciting,” said Johnson, now 71, who later called thousands of races as the track announcer and eventually became general manager of the Downs. “My dad would take us to the races every weekend. Later I was working as a gopher in the racing office and the announcer didn’t show up. That’s how I became an announcer.”

Today Scarborough Downs celebrates 60 years with the final of the Mid-Summer Classic Pacing series. Memorabilia will be on display in the grandstand and old audio from some of the track’s key races will play over the loudspeaker.

Johnson will call a few races on the 13-race card, and be among those now hooked on the sport whose introduction began at the Downs.

“There was a day we packed the place. The grandstand would be filled and there was excitement,” said Johnson. “I think Scarborough Downs has kept racing alive. If it wasn’t here, I don’t think racing would be alive.”

THE MILES TO REMEMBER

Through the last six decades many storied miles have been raced on the dusty track.

In 1993, Walter Case Jr. drove Hotrod Falcon to the fastest mile in Maine. He ran 1 minute, 52 and four-fifths of a second on Sept. 5, 1993.

In 1981, The Andover Story, trained by Don Richards of Yarmouth, became the first horse to beat 2 minutes at the Downs.

“Now it’s quite common,” Richards said just outside his Cumberland stable this week. “He was owned by John March of Bridgton. We broke him and trained him. I raced him all over.”

If Richards ruled as a driver in the 1970s, Freeman Parker, a longtime driver from Waterford, ruled the ’80s.

“We were the kingpins,” said Parker with a grin. He’s now 71. “There’s nothing you could tell the drivers today. They just go as fast as they can go. It was different then. We saved ’em. The horses lasted longer.”

ONE MAN’S LOVE

The track, which opened with thoroughbred racing on July 1, 1950, started to offer harness racing in 1968. Five years later, it went solely to harness racing.

It has made many headlines through the years for events on and off the oval.

The track’s clubhouse burned down in 1984 and was rebuilt two years later.

Joe Ricci, the owner who died in January 2001, was in many of those headlines. Despite being considered contentious by many in the industry, he kept the Downs going for decades with support and promotions. It is believed he invested considerable amounts of his money out of love for the track. His widow, Sharon Terry, still runs it today.

It was the start for some of the country’s most successful drivers, including Walter Case.

Despite enjoying its heyday several decades ago, horsemen and women still depend on the Downs for their livelihood.

THE MID-SUMMER CLASSIC

In the last 10 years, purses have risen considerably at Scarborough due to revenue from slot machines at Hollywood Slots in Bangor. The Town of Scarborough has yet to approve them in southern Maine.

The latest ballot initiative to allow slot machines at the racetrack failed by 240 votes in 2008.

“We used to enjoy crowds,” said Richards. “The purses are up but nobody comes anymore. I was always against the off-track betting parlors. It just divides the pie.”

Still, strong racing takes place.

Today’s field in the Mid-Summer Classic final will include several special horses, including Shady Sabrina, Kevin Switzer’s 7-year-old mare. She is the only mare in the field, and is among the best on the Eastern Seaboard.

On July, 3 Shady Sabrina ran the fastest mile ever paced by a mare at the Downs in a time of 1:54.1.

“We call her the Queen,” said Butch Eaton, who works in Switzer’s stable. “She loves her job. She knows it well and loves it. She’s just a pure racehorse.”

The Mid-Summer Classic final will be the day’s 12th race. Shady Sabrina will race from the six-hole alongside Roman Conquerer N in the five-hole, also from Switzer’s stable.

The track is billing the showdown as a classic battle of the sexes, a la Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.

“I race her from here to Delaware,” said Switzer, who said she collected $98,000 in purse money this winter alone. “She can race either way, on the lead or from behind.”

Top competition will come from Doubleshotascotch of Valerie Grondin Stables in Bangor. He will be driven by Heath Campbell and is expected to be another strong contender.

“I hope everything works out and we’re standing in the winner’s circle,” said Campbell.

His brother, Drew, will be driving longshot Mystical Delight and will be waiting to pounce.

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

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