Construction on Portland Meadows Racetrack began on November 20, 1945, under the direction of William P. Kyne, a San Francisco businessman who also founded Bay Meadows Racetrack in San Mateo, California.
Ten months later on September 14, 1946, more than 10,000 people poured through the turnstiles for its opening. In doing so, they witnessed history in the making as Portland Meadows became the first Thoroughbred track in the nation to offer night-time racing. The lighting system, designed by General Electric, had been boasted as having the power “to light a four lane super highway from Portland to Salem, a distance of 40 miles.”
Two years of racing and 13 days into the third season had passed when Mother Nature intervened by way of the Vanport Flood. It completely wiped out the Oregon town of Vanport – never to be rebuilt and left nearly 20,000 people homeless with 15 fatalities reported. Portland Meadows could not escape her wrath or the quarter of a million dollars worth of damages.
Some 22 years later in the spring of 1970, Portland Meadows came face to face with disaster once again. At 2:00 a.m. on April 25 (41 days into the race meet), an inferno swept through the grandstand, destroying everything in its path. Fortunately, this blow failed to take any human or equine lives. It did, however, force the cancellation of the remainder of the meet.
The following year, after reconstruction and a third attempt at life, Portland Meadows opened again and welcomed a record crowd of 12,635 people on its 25th Opening Day.
Some notable highlights and success stories came in the 1981-82 and 1982-83 race meets. Although relatively unknown on a national level at the time, the leading rider for both of those meets would go on to record three Kentucky Derby victories and eight Breeders’ Cup triumphs. Gary Stevens, the Idaho native who had cut his teeth in Boise before fine-tuning his skills in Portland, captured the aforementioned Portland Meadows riding titles en route to becoming one of racing history’s most successful riders. Stevens gained entry into the National Racing Hall of Fame in 1997. Notably, he played the legendary George Woolf in the 2003 major motion picture hit Seabiscuit.
Six years after Stevens captured those titles, Portland Meadows made Oregon racing history with its first $100,000 stakes race – The Coors Portland Meadows Mile. Under Hall of Fame rider Willie Shoemaker, Present Value captured Oregon’s richest race and ultimately retired with $1,153,853 in career earnings. Present Value continues to hold the distinction of being the richest horse ever to compete at Portland Meadows.
In 1994, Portland’s 2-year-old champion Jumron quickly gathered fans across the Pacific Northwest. By 1995, he distinguished himself as the first horse to begin his career here and race in the Kentucky Derby. He finished fourth, about four lengths behind Thunder Gulch after a troubled beginning and a long, five-wide stretch drive. Defeating the likes of Serena’s Song, Pyramid Peak, and Afternoon Deelites, Jumron is considered one of Portland’s favorite colts.
Magna Entertainment Corporation acquired the racing license of Portland Meadows in the summer of 2001.
In 2001, the greatest Oregon-bred of all-time, Lethal Grande, started his amazing career at Portland Meadows. He was voted Oregon Horse of the Year in both 2003 and 2004 and piled up career earnings of $409,788 throughout his six-year racing career. Lethal Grande had 26 career wins, 10 of them at Portland Meadows. On March 30, 2003, Lethal Grande set the track record for six furlongs at Portland Meadows, stopping the clock in 1:09.06, a record that still stands.
During the 2006-07 season jockey Joe Crispin broke Gary Stevens 24-year-old record for wins in a season by winning 162 Thoroughbred races during a 73-day meeting. Stevens record was 126 wins in the 1982/1983 meeting. Crispin won the riding title again in 2007-08 with 132 wins.
On January 7, 2009, Portland Meadows hosted the $20,000 Golden Gate vs. Portland Meadows Jockey Challenge brought to you by XpressBet. The event saw four of the top riders at Portland Meadows square off against a foursome of riders from Golden Gate Fields, including Hall of Famer Russell Baze, in a four-race series. When all was said and done, Team Portland Meadows conquered their rivals from the Golden State with Debbie Hoonan-Trujillo taking home the top individual jockey trophy. The event was covered nationally by HRTV.
In 2012, Portland Meadows shifted the live racing season to include a summer race meet as part of a renewed focus on bringing customers back to the track. The summer meet began on Sunday, July 15, 2012, and thousands of locals including Mayor Sam Adams showed up for a great day of horse racing.