Although we have not had horse races in Sandusky for quite a while, the trotters were popular in town for many years, beginning about 150 years ago.
When the Ohio State Fair was held in Sandusky in 1858 the new fairgrounds (off Wayne Street, where Cable Park is today) included a state-of the-art race track. The Sandusky Register previewed the racecourse in its August 7, 1858 edition, declaring that it "will be one of the finest courses in the state." It was a mile-long oval, fifty feet wide, "with a 'home-stretch' of 100 rods" (2.5 furlongs, or 550 yards). Its inaugural races were held on September 2, 1858, with races all during the state fair in September. Entrants in those early races appear to have been mostly residents of nearby communities who wanted to show off the quality of their horses and their racing carts. Winners at the fair's races received purses of $50.
By 1874, the Sandusky Trotting Association was established to manage the races. The first meet sponsored by the Trotting Association began at 10:30 AM on Wednesday, August 1, with eight horse races, and human foot races in between. (Foot races were frequently held on the track.) The highly popular Great Western Band performed throughout the day. (You can see the band marching in an 1876 parade on the track in the image above.) Each race was run as a best-three-of-five, or two-of-three, series of heats. One of the races was a match race between Gottlieb Epple's double team and Clark Center and his horse, Silversmith Maid -- a race the Register said was run as a "side bet." After losing the first heat, Silversmith Maid won the next two races to take the prize. (Sadly, there was no indication as to how much was bet.)
Additional newspaper articles show that the races were still popular into the 1920s, with a track record $5000 purse (worth about $50,000 today) offered on July 30, 1924.