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Madison Derby Days research reveals horseracing legacy

As Madison Derby Days waits at its starting gate for May 5, organizers have discovered facts about North Alabama’s horseracing legacy.

Madison Station Historical Preservation Society “is bringing awareness of the area’s history in early horseracing in the Deep South and the breeding of American thoroughbreds,” coordinator Dawn Johnson said.

A brochure by society vice president Charlie Nola documents these years. He also used research by historians John Rankin and Nancy Rohr.

On the Derby Days flyer, a Currier & Ives illustration depicts a race between horses Peytona and Fashion. “Peytona put North Alabama in horseracing history by winning the 1845 North vs. South Race on the Union Course track in Long Island, N.Y.,” Nola said.

Glencoe sired Peytona at the Forks of Cypress Plantation in Florence, Ala. and ultimately sired 14 Kentucky Derby winners.

In the early 1800s, North Alabama had large racetrack and stable operations, including the Green Bottom Inn Jockey Club, Boardman Mills Stable and Pulaski Pike Track. In 1819, U.S. President Andrew Jackson visited Huntsville to race his horses at Green Bottom, now the site of Alabama A&M University.

In 1833, the Pulaski Pike Track audience witnessed the Leonid meteor shower, inspiring the 1934 jazz standard, “Stars Fell on Alabama.”

Brothers Elijah and John Boardman bred American thoroughbreds in the early 1800s at Boardman Mills. This property is situated south of I-565 on Redstone Arsenal, east of Zierdt Road.

These stables “seeded the area with the lines from royal studs at England’s Hampton Court (and properties of) Lord Chesterfield, Duke of Grafton and Sir Thomas Stanley,” Nola said.

Boardman Mills was stocked “with imported stallions, brood mares and choice horses personally selected by noted English horseman Richard Tattersall,” he said.

The Boardmans’ business ventures eliminated American breeders investing time and money to travel to England for stock.

Madison Station Historical Preservation Society was incorporated in 1984 and works to sustain architecturally and historically significant buildings and sites (historicmadisonstation.com). Monthly meetings are held on the fourth Thursday in the Roundhouse on Front Street.

Madison Derby Days will be held from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on May 5. For more information, visit madisonderbydays.com.

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