O wyścigach - Racetrack History

Before the track was built in Służewiec


One would like to say that a great prize for one who knows since when people have raced on the Polish territory. According to the “New Universal Encyclopaedia” of the Polish Scientific Publishers, horse racing is the oldest form of horse riding. Thus, it can be assumed that our ancestors raced since they got on the horse, but probably not for sport, but rather hunting or in the heat of battle, when the rider’s life or death was dependent on his skills and speed of his horse. One thing is certain, and so the need for racing never died out in the Poles despite wars, uprisings or partitions, and on the contrary – it was growing.
The first certain date, which we can boldly announce the beginning of the era of documenting events relating to racing, is the year 1777. It was the year when on the road from Wola do Ujazdów, a mare belonging to Kazimierz Rzewulski utterly defeated the horse of the English Member of Parliament, named Sir Charles Whitworth.
This event is discussed in many sources, but the most interesting description is presented by Karol Mórawski in the chapter “Where people chased horseback in Warsaw”, which is an integral part of a brochure published on the occasion of the opening of the last year’s exhibition “Bomb Up! 166 years of horse racing in Warsaw.” And what happened afterwards? Races were organized on the Marszałkowska Street (year 1818), and even on the fields near the Royal ??Łazienki, but twenty years later – informs Mr. Mórawski.

In March 1841, the Horse Racing and Livestock Exhibition Society was founded in the Polish Kingdom. It is the institution that set itself the goal of organizing horse racing and supporting the breeding of thoroughbred horses. The first races were held in June of the same year. The place, which then seemed to be the most appropriate for the needs of this type of sport, was the Mokotów Field (near the present site of the Union of Lublin). The first capital track had a length of about one kilometer.
Horse racing, in which the whole Warsaw found excitement, was suspended with the outbreak of the January Uprising (1863-1864). However, neither this break, nor repression and seizure of autonomy of the Polish Kingdom did not contributed to the decline in horse racing popularity. What is more, the Polish horses each year were getting better. They won a lot of races not only within the Polish territory, but also in Russia, for example, in Moscow. Extremely interesting is the event of 1887, when the Whole-Russian Derby was won by the Polish stallion Ruler, purchased in England still in the womb.


Racing popularity was bigger and bigger, and it increased significantly by the official introduction in 1880 of the Totalisator, which started to pay out pretty substantial prizes for the winners. It is also important that trainers and riders from England began to come to the Polish lands more and more frequently, and England is the place of origin of the best “sports” horses, trainers and jockeys, and therefore we could learn from the masters. One could say that it was a golden period for the Polish horse racing, widely known throughout Europe.
The outbreak of World War I is another difficult period in the history of Polish horse breeding, and hence, also racing. Fortunately, a large group of valuable horses survived safely in Odessa, from where they returned to the Polish tracks in 1919. However, it must have taken many more years to return to the breeding level of the time before the war. The way back to normality was facilitated by the entry into force of the Law on horse races (1925). This Law resulted in the creation of the Committee of Horse races.


Meanwhile, during the period of extraordinary popularity of horse racing, new tracks began to be formed, e.g. in Poznań, Lublin and Lvov. Even Zakopane had its annually marked out track, where horses could race in winter. Warsaw residents also wanted to have their genuine track. People talked about it more often and more loudly. We will come back to this issue later.
Another World War put an end to racing. Polish breeding, known all over the world, became destroyed once again, and our horses scattered.
After termination of hostilities, the owners of stud farms could not recover them because they became nationalized. What was worse, also private owners were deprived of racing horses. In 1950, highly deserved Society for the Encouragement of the Horse Breeding, probably a “relic” of the bourgeois past, was formally liquidated. In this place the people’s government set up the National Horse Racetracks Company, based in Służewiec, with branches in Sopot and Wrocław. Political changes after 1989 brought another breakthrough. Stud farms were then put into liquidation, and their property transferred to the State Agricultural Property Agency. In the place of old stud farms, state officials formed companies, some of which were privatized. As a result, competition between breeders, although not yet on a large scale, became a reality again.
But it was not the end of changes. In 1993, the National Horse Racetracks Company, to which everyone got used to, became liquidated and its property transferred to the State Agricultural Property Agency. At that time, the program of partial privatization of several areas related to horse racing, such as horse training area, was prepared. There was also established the company Służewiec – Horse Racetrack in Warsaw. This single-shareholder company of the State Agricultural Property Agency existed until 1999. All treasury shares were transferred to the Totalisator in 2000. The company could not develop because shortly afterwards it was deprived of the right to organize bets, and therefore the earlier transfer of shares was pointless from a business point of view. And so, the property of “Służewiec” again became the State Treasury property. Meanwhile, in 2001, an act was passed about horse racing, under which the Polish Jockey Club was established to manage the track in Służewiec. The Club was looking for an investor for “Służewiec”. Two racing seasons were successfully organised with support of the Stallion Herd Company in ?Łąck, but still there was not a strategic investor. Fortunately, once the Totalisator re-entered the game, the issue of financial resources needed to organise races in Służewiec ceased to exist.

History of the Racetrack in Służewiec


Let’s put the calendar aside and go back to the races themselves in Warsaw. The Pole Mokotowskie were still the centre for struggles of the horses and their riders until 1938. The fact that it is not exactly a good place for this type of sports games was known long time ago, but only in the 20s the need to build a track in another place become a subject of public discussion. Horse racing popularity was steadily growing, and thus the need to move to a bigger and permanent headquarters became urgent. On 26 February 1937 the “Daily Courier” wrote: So the current racetrack, existing for more than 50 years, no longer corresponds to its requirements. There are no training tracks, stands are in a deplorable state, stables lag far behind in terms of modern equipment. On the other hand, the vast area of land in the heart of Warsaw occupied by the racetrack makes it impossible to adjust the city plan. Such arguments must have finally reached even the biggest opponents of change.
The search for a suitable site for the Warsaw horse races last many years. Various locations were take into account such as the area in Okęcie, however, Służewiec proved to be a winning proposition. Its location was one of the reasons justifying the decision to buy this land.

The first important date in the history of Służewiec Racetrack was 1926, when the Society for the Encouragement of the Horse Breeding in Poland bought 150 ha of land in Służewiec for future racing complex facilities. They spent PLN 590,000 for this purpose. From that moment, almost every day, newspapers reported on the progress of work, on the next workers arriving in the construction site, communications in Służewiec etc. They widely described the architectural design, and later the removal from the Pole Mokotowskie.
Another very important date, perhaps the most important, is certainly 3 June 1939, when the first bomb went up on a beautiful and very modern Służewiec racetrack. It should be mentioned that the first race was won by a stallion Felsztyn, ridden by Stefan Michalczyk. Unfortunately, the people of Warsaw did not manage to enjoy the new track to the fullest. Last races before the outbreak of war were held on 31 August 1939. How popular the races were can be proved by the fact that in 1939 more than thousand horses were running in the capital Hippodrome, including many horses of which foreign countries were jealous.


And what about the Racetrack in Służewiec? It didn’t suffered during the war so much as to completely prevent starts. This was prevented by the Germans themselves, because the SS peripheral troops stationed on the horse racing site. The people of Warsaw again heard the clatter of horses’ hooves in 1946. There were 237 races held, in which more than 160 horses attended.

“Horse-racing Town”


Hr. Zygmunt Plater-Zyberk, main architect of “Służewiec” visited all Europe’s top racetracks before he engaged with designing. As a result, on the one hand, errors in the design phase were avoided, and on the other hand, the latest technology was used.
Taking into account all the land conditions, the main track (2,300 m) was situated from north to south, and the training track from east to west (about 30 ha). It should be noted that the main track was built so that the water does not have the right to collect on it. Its shape (bends) was a perfect setting for pure “sports”, or thoroughbred horses.
There were planned three stands to be built for guests with different budget. The Stand numbered I (called the “Membership”) was designed for the most important personalities. Its guests have access to a spacious hall, room and a small lounge with a dining area on the first floor. The stand is connected with the so-called colonnade with a little stand for the staff. The rooms for, among others, the judges are located one floor above. Here, there was a conference room as well. One could reach this stand by car (separate entrance). In turn, Stand II, or main, could accommodate 5,400 people (there were seating and standing places). Guests of this stand could also enjoy a hall on the ground floor. People on both these stands had access to the paddock, which was situated between them. The cheapest seats were on the unfinished Stand III, which could accommodate up to 7,000 spectators (there were only standing places).
The entire complex had many interesting architectural solutions, for example the tunnel between the stables and paddock area. The track sprinkling system was also designed. If we add housing for employees, stores (including the grain one of 550 tons), stables for over 800 horses, wells, large parking area, water tower, it’s probably not surprising that this bold project was called the building of “Horse-Racing Town” already during the construction stage. It should also be remembered that the Racetrack in Służewiec was the largest structure in Europe in those years. But the whole complex would not be so attractive without ubiquitous greenery. Certainly, at first glance, one cannot see that there are as many as 6,000 various bushes and 95 species of trees.
According to the main architect, the construction consumed 12,000 m3 of concrete, 85 m3 of boards and 1,000 tons of iron. And that’s not all, because there is still a concrete wall (about 6 km), ceilings, plaster, and more.
Służewiec hippodrome was, and actually still is, built between the streets: Puławska, Wyścigowa, Bokserska, Kłobucka and Wyczółki (d. Gallop). According to the vast majority of regular visitors of this type of structure, it is the pearl of European and global “equestrian architecture” – if we may put it that way. It delights not only with the architecture of particular buildings, their functionality (difficult to overestimate even today), but also greenery, which makes this place a sports and recreational structure. Our “Horse-Racing Town” today can be an example for future generations of racetrack designers.

Warsaw press about moving the horse racetrack from Mokotów to Służewiec

(from January 1937 to March 1939)
Horse races suppress the capital development – alerts the “Daily Courier” under the heading of the article dated 24 January 1937. Concerned editor emphasizes that the City Board allocates the budget, but these projects completely omit an issue of the land occupied by horse racing, which is so important for the development of Warsaw. Editors note that while the Society for the Encouragement of the Horse Breeding in Poland (hereinafter – TZHK) already possesses the Służewiec area, but it cannot move there (…), because the turnover of the Society began to fall more and more (…). You have to find the money that would allow the Society to move to Służewiec, calls upon the “Courier”.
Meanwhile, the “Morning Courier” informs readers with concern (19.02.1937): Our track, existing for 50 years (talking about the track on the Pole Mokotowskie), does not correspond to modern requirements – shabby stables, shabby stands, and what is worse, there are no training areas. The editors note that TZHK needs about 7 million zlotys to complete the construction of the new track. When the opportunity occurs, the “Courier” sharply attacks the opponents of races: Let’s look at foreign cities! For example Turkey, actually poor, founded in Angora a huge and wonderful track, with a huge effort, inlaid with marble, etc. At the moment, we are exporting 20 thoroughbred horses to Turkey to initiate trade with us – and how did they get to know about these horses, wasn’t it from the racetrack? – asks the editorial board.
In turn, the “Warsaw Courier” of 06.03.1937 underlines the importance of developing public transport to ensure free access to the races for the capital residents. Nobody explained how the city fathers imagine conveying these 10-30 thousands of people with trams to Służewiec and back at one time …, worries a journalist of the “Courier”.
A magazine “Armed Poland” of 03.25.1937, referring to the issue of financing new investment in Służewiec and removing racing horses, announces in a military official style: On the part of the army, we wish a successful resolution of this difficult issue so that the future track in Służewiec could fulfil its mission and best carry out tests for valour, strength and courage not only of our horses, but also our riders.
The racetrack will be moved to Służewiec, reports the “Fight of the People” on 25.03.1937. We read in the article that ‘Trustworthy factors promised to support the Society’s efforts to obtain additional funding necessary to move the Mokotów track from Mokotów to Służewiec.’
Meantime, the “Time” worries about the lack of funds. (…) The minimum construction project was calculated in the previous year in the amount of approximately PLN 8 million. Now, due to such greatly increased raw material prices, the cost of the track completion will exceed the sum of PLN 10 million. Therefore, a fundamental question arises – how to obtain money necessary for the investment.
The track moving to Służewiec begins to take real forms, reports the “Bishop of Warsaw” on 9 May 1937. They have already started to carry out earthworks, sewage and water supply, construction material has been purchased and brought (…).
In turn, the “Tomorrow” praises the project of Służewiec land development: Starting from the main entrance, from the side of the tram line and narrow-gauge railway, a wide avenue divides the square into two parts. On the left side of the III-rd, II-nd and I-st (member) places, the surrounding squares, separated by a barrier from the runway, are stretching over an area of more than half a kilometre. Next paddock, tack room and scales. Avenue, leading to all seats for spectators, will end up creating a spacious park to park motor cars (up to 2,000 cars). (…) The track around, 50 meters wide, and internal obstacle track, in the form of figure eight, covered with grass, smooth as green velvet. (…) The second part, the northern side behind the garden, consists of the administrative buildings, residential buildings, in which you can find restaurants, coffee-houses, guest rooms for visitors, eating place for workers bachelors, folk house for the staff, laundry, workshop, sauna, shops and kindergarten, – enumerates a journalist of the “Tomorrow” in an issue from May 1937.
Służewiec is overbuilding and … waiting for communication, – announces the title of the “Polish Courier” of 06.11.1937. In turn, on 1 April 1939 the “Morning Express” praises the work progress: Already 600 workers are engaged at the construction site. As the work proceeds, their number will equal 1,200 people. The “Morning Courier” of 02.06.2008 joyfully reports: Służewiec – Horse Racing City, is flourishing! As soon as on 23 November 1938 the “Morning Express” announces in the title: Horse racing is moving to Służewiec in November. However, frosts stopped the construction, but the same newspaper consoles in early January 1939 that the race will begin in the spring already on the new track. On 14 February 1939 the “Latest News” informs that the opening of Służewiec is scheduled on 27 May! The “Morning Courier” confirms – A bomb up – in Służewiec!, but simultaneously adds that the communication is the only trouble. The “Latest News” reports in the title: The finishing touch in Służewiec! Modern and luxurious “Horse Racing City” on the eve of the opening. The “Morning Express” informs at the end of March 1939 that instead of the tram from Puławska Street, there is designed a high-speed electric rail, transporting people to the stands. All newspapers are counting days to the opening of …



A bomb up! 166 years of horse racing in Warsaw. Guidebook published in 2007 by the Museum of Wola, a branch of the Historical Museum of the Capital City of Warsaw, and the Polish Jockey Club on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition of the same title. Authors: Jerzy Budny, Karol Mórawski, Agnieszka Dąbrowska and Maria Tejchman. It’s been 150 years! Guidebook published by the National Horse Racetracks Company for the 150th anniversary of the first race. Author: Zdzisław Umiński. Warsaw press from the years 1937 to 1939.

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