This time of year we think of Saratoga as being the horse capital of the Northeast. For a short time in the late 1940s, Oneonta attempted to establish itself as a key equestrian center of New York state, enjoying moderate but short-lived success in the process.
“Taking a first step in a movement to establish Oneonta as a key horse show and racing center, members of two city committees yesterday authorized $7,500 for a horse show for August 13-15 at the new Webb Island center,” it was reported in The Oneonta Star of April 12, 1948. Catella Park now covers most of the former Webb Island, which was altered during the construction of Interstate 88 and the James F. Lettis Highway in the early 1970s.
The horse show was an enterprise of both the Oneonta Recreation Fair Association and Oneonta Horse Show committees. They retained the services of Joe Maguire of Williamstown, Mass., a prominent show manager, to direct the three days of activities in August. Proceeds from the show were planned to further develop Webb Island. The area was used for athletic practice in a variety of high school and college sports, but not much else at the time.
The First Annual Oneonta Horse Show opened on Friday, Aug. 13, 1948. Nearly 200 horses entered in the 73 classes of the 12 show divisions, according to the Star.
“The horses on hand include some of the most famous and outstanding performers in the show world and are from the Middle Atlantic States, New England, Middle West and the South. Early arrivals among the exhibitors have already mentioned that the Webb Island setting is among the finest they have seen.”
While Webb Island had a track, there was no racing during the weekend event. Activities took place inside the ring of the track. It wasn’t a show entirely brought in from outside our area. There was a pet pony division, one that enabled all horses owned and stabled within 50 miles of Oneonta to compete against each other without the obvious disadvantage of being in the same class with champion, professional show horses.