While our physical offices are closed until further notice in accordance with Austin's COVID-19 "stay home-work safe" order, the Handbook of Texas will remain available at no-cost for you, your fellow history enthusiasts, and all Texas students currently mandated to study from home. If you have the capacity to help us maintain our online Texas history resources during these uncertain times, please consider making a 100% tax-deductible contribution today. Thank you for your support of TSHA and Texas history. Donate Today »


Donald S. Frazier

ARLINGTON DOWNS RACETRACK. Arlington Downs, a 1¼-mile track with a 6,000-seat grandstand, opened on November 1, 1929, under the guidance of oil and cattle magnate William T. Waggoner. The track was located on his "Three D" stock farm half-way between Dallas and Fort Worth near Arlington, and the construction cost was nearly $3 million. All of this endeavor was a gamble for the millionaire since pari-mutuel betting, the largest income-producing aspect of horse racing, was illegal at the time of the track's opening. By use of his facility for prize races and for local civic events, Waggoner endeared himself and his track to the local citizenry. Simultaneously, the racing entrepreneur was spending thousands lobbying Austin for legalization of pari-mutuel wagering.

Although lawmakers were unsuccessful in their attempts to pass legislation in support of Waggoner's gamble, a test case arose when two racegoers, O. O. Franklin and J. B. Coulter, were arrested at Arlington Downs in the fall of 1931 for openly betting on the races. The resulting publicity and court case allowed racing proponents to make their case public. In 1933 the Texas legislature legalized pari-mutuel; it issued the first permit to a hastily expanded and remodeled Arlington Downs.

The income generated by pari-mutuel betting breathed new life into the racetrack, and thoroughbred owners from across the country sent their horses by rail to compete at Arlington Downs. During its first year of full operation under the new laws, 650 horses ran on the track, profits averaged $113,731 a day, and the average daily attendance was 6,734. As Arlington Downs increased its financial health, Waggoner's physical health broke. On December 11, 1934, he died of a stroke, thus depriving the racing industry of one of its most vocal and successful boosters. In Austin support was growing for a repeal of pari-mutuel as pro-racing lobbyists scrambled to buy time. By careful maneuvering, a decision on the issue was avoided during the 1936–37 seasons, and the popularity and prestige of Arlington Downs grew throughout the country. In 1937 the Texas Derby was heralded as the "tryouts" for the more famous Kentucky Derby.

At the end of the 1937 regular session the state legislature repealed the pari-mutuel laws. Arlington Downs was sold to commercial developers. The racetrack was used for rodeos and other events until 1958, when the buildings were razed. In 1978 a Texas historical landmark was placed on the site.

Arlington Citizen-Journal, July 4, 1985. Chris Taylor, "Reign of the Tricolors," Texas Historian, March 1972.

Image Use Disclaimer

All copyrighted materials included within the Handbook of Texas Online are in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 related to Copyright and “Fair Use” for Non-Profit educational institutions, which permits the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), to utilize copyrighted materials to further scholarship, education, and inform the public. The TSHA makes every effort to conform to the principles of fair use and to comply with copyright law.

For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml

If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.


The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

Handbook of Texas Online, Donald S. Frazier, "ARLINGTON DOWNS RACETRACK," accessed July 10, 2020, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xva02.

Uploaded on June 9, 2010. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
visit the mytsha forums to participate

View these posts and more when you register your free MyTSHA account.

Call for Papers: Texas Center for Working-Class Studies Events, Symposia, and Workshops
Hi all! You may be interested in this call for papers I received from the Texas Center for Working-Class Studies at Collin College...

Katy Jennings' Ride Scholarly Research Request
I'm doing research on Catherine Jennings Lockwood, specifically the incident known as "Katy Jennings' Ride." Her father was Gordon C. Jennings, the oldest man to die at the Alamo...

Texas Constitution of 1836 Co-Author- Elisha Pease? Ask a Historian
The TSHA profile of Elisha Marshall Pease states that he wrote part of the Texas Constitution although he was only a 24 year-old assistant secretary (not elected). I cannot find any other mention of this authorship work by Pease in other credible research about the credited Constution authors...