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This Day in Buffalo Sports History: They're off

   September 20, 1940 -- Someone had the idea of building a paramutual race track somewhere in
Western New York. But where should it go?

   That was the discussion in local racing circles in 1939. William "Lefty" Goldberg was one of the key players in the discussion, and he thought a place about halfway between Buffalo and Rochester would be a nifty spot for a track.

   A year later, that dream became realized. Batavia Downs was open for business on this day. The first race went off at 8:20 p.m. before a crowd of more than 2,000 improvers of the breed.

   According to the track history, Harold Wishman, William Zimmer, Arthur Martin and Frederick Strohm were stockholders in the Monroe-Genesee Breeders Association, a predecessor to the Genesee-Monroe Racing Association, which rents the Genesee County Fairgrounds for racing. They watched the crowd wager $10,411 on the first night of racing.

   By 1945, Batavia Downs was the second-busiest track in the nation, trailing only Roosevelt Raceway in the New York City area. A year later, the facility started to earn its first profit.

   The track has gone through all sorts of ups and downs over the years, including a fire and video lottery terminals. It's still in operation today.

--- Budd Bailey

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