Recalling pony races at Shelby Downs
Western New York has two major harness racing tracks – Batavia Downs and Buffalo Raceway – but in the late 1960’s Orleans County had its own harness track in Shelby Downs which held pony races.
Located on Route 63 just south of Shelby Center, Shelby Downs was the brainchild of Sylvester Falk who at the time worked as the superintendent of the nearby Forrestel Farms.
Falk leased 10 acres of land on the west side of Route 63 from Richard Cook and with the help of his wife Maria and a friend, Raymond Hill, began preparing a quarter-mile oval dirt track in April 1966. Aged 61 at the time he had been interested in pony racing since he took part in the sport as a youth in Little Valley, New York.
Sanctioned by the United States Pony Trotter Association, Shelby Downs operated from 1966 to 1969 on Sunday afternoons.
Opening Day was on July 4th 1966 and over 200 spectators were on hand to watch the card of four races for ponies which were less than 50 inches high.
The honor of winning the very first race went to Walter Crutts of Gasport who drove his pony “Mickey” home to victory in a time of 2:35 for two laps around the oval.
“Peanuts”, driven by Wilbert Fuller of Shelby Center was second and “Star Dust”, driven by Charles Quackenbush, also of Shelby Center, was third in the historic opening event whose field also included “Spark Plug”, driven by Glenn Fuller of Shelby Center, “Pixie Girl” driven by Art Wilkins of Albion and “George M”, driven by Frank Behl of Shelby.
Falk himself earned a spot in the winners circle late in the season with a pony named “Black Magic”.
Interestingly, the leading driver at the track that summer was a lady – Vera Gibbons.
The track operated for three more seasons and was renamed “Medina Downs” in 1969 when Mr. and Mrs. Horace Riches of Shelby took over as managers when Falk moved from the area.
Today nothing remains of the track as the land on which the ponies raced around the quarter-mile dirt oval, has returned to being farm fields.