Kevin Switzer (front) drives Mizuno around the track during racing action in 2015 at Scarborough Downs. The track ceased operations on Saturday after 70 years. Credit: Courtesy of Scarborough Downs

Scarborough Downs, which has been the site of horse racing since 1950, has ceased operations.

The facility held its last live harness racing program on Saturday afternoon, ending a 70-year run as a fixture in southern Maine.

Publicity director Mike Sweeney cited financial challenges magnified by the COVID-19 pandemic among the reasons for the decision.

The closure leaves Hollywood Casino Hotel and Raceway in Bangor as Maine’s only commercial harness racing facility.

Scarborough Downs and the adjoining 500 acres of land were sold in 2018 to Crossroads Holdings. That group paid $6.7 million for the parcel and the buildings.

At the time the sale was announced, the ownership group said it plans to invest more than $20 million to make infrastructure improvements to the property. It is expected to have a town center with retail and commercial entities, along with housing and other facilities.

Although there will no longer be any racing at the facility, Scarborough Downs will remain open for simulcast wagering through the remainder of the 2020 season.

The Maine Harness Racing Commission has granted Scarborough Downs a license to start operating as an off-track betting facility beginning in January 2021.

The property, which consisted primarily of marshland, was originally purchased in 1950 for $600 by track developers Robert Verrier and Fred Snow. They started by holding thoroughbred racing at Scarborough Downs, a one-mile oval, which when built included seating for 6,500 spectators, stables for 1,000 horses and parking for 6,000 vehicles.

The racetrack added harness racing to its offerings in 1969, but by the end of 1972 stopped hosting thoroughbred racing. The one-mile oval was reconfigured to a half-mile in 1973.

The original clubhouse was destroyed by fire in 1983.

The record attendance for Scarborough Downs came on June 29, 1980, according to An announced crowd of 9,133 arrived to get autographs from “The Incredible Hulk” actor Lou Ferrigno.

Pete Warner

Pete graduated from Bangor High School in 1980 and earned a B.S. in Journalism (Advertising) from the University of Maine in 1986. He grew up fishing at his family's camp on Sebago Lake but didn't take...