Jul 29, 2014

Memories Of Longacres Are All But Dead

Sally Steiner grew up at Longacres and now owns the Quarter Chute Café at Emerald Downs with her husband Joe.

Memories Of Longacres Are All But Dead Memories Of Longacres Are All But Dead Memories Of Longacres Are All But Dead Memories Of Longacres Are All But Dead Memories Of Longacres Are All But Dead Memories Of Longacres Are All But Dead Memories Of Longacres Are All But Dead Memories Of Longacres Are All But Dead

The day after Longacres closed on September 21, 1992, the Valley Daily News' headline read “The race over, the lights out, Longacres is dead.”

For Sally Steiner (Leonard) the memories of Longacres are far from dead.

Memories of the storied track hang along the walls of Steiner's Quarter Chute Café at Emerald Downs. Photos, race memorabilia and paintings remind Steiner of her life at Longacres. Her father, Jack Leonard, was a successful jockey and trainer, which meant Steiner spent much of her summers in barn number nine.

“It was historical, I was happy to be a part of it,” said Steiner during a break at the café. “It has my heart, my roots started at Longacres and they have branched off into the café at Emerald Downs.”

Born in 1945 to Jack and Leona Leonard, Sally and her family would travel between Canada, Oregon and California following the state and county fair horse racing circuits.

In 1948, Jack received a job offer at the Jack Warner House Ranch in Canoga Park, California where he worked as a jockey exercising the horses rode in the racing scene of Warner’s movie Seabiscuit. Steiner remembers the movie stars stopped by the little ranch house while filming on location.

Those stars were Shirley Temple and Lon McCallister, and they stood right in the kitchen. A photo now hangs in the café with Steiner sitting on Temple’s lap, even tying her shoes.  

“I thought she was a nice lady,” said Steiner, not knowing who the woman was at the time the photos were taken.

During the summer of 1961, Steiner and her family went to a local burger joint called Joe’s 19-cent Burgers for fish. 

“This guy was in there, he was pretty cute guy,” Steiner said. That cute guy was Joe Steiner, her future husband. Joe asked a friend who the girl was; the friend replied, “that’s that famous jockey’s sister,” referring to the younger Jack Leonard (son of Jack Leonard senior).

Joe made plans to ask Sally out even though his friend told him she was out of his league. 

Their first date was Christmas Day 1961.

Sally went on to graduate from Kent-Meridian High School and the two married on October 12, 1963. Despite raising their four children away from the track  they all eventually made made horses their livelihood or married into the circuit: son Joe Steiner became a jockey; son Jack Steiner worked as a jockey nd trainer; daughter Kelli was exercise rider; and daughter Karrie married a jockey agent, although she made her living as a dental hygienist).

Sally returned to Longacres in 1981 to be a cashier at the Backstretch Cafe and later was a manager.

After the closure of the track, the Steiners placed a bid to operate a cafe at the new racetrack in Auburn called Emerald Downs in 1996. At the time Sally was in Kentucky visiting a new grandbaby when she heard the news. 

"I could have flew back without the plane," Sally joked. "We lived in a different time at Longacres, it was a neighborhood place where kids got their first job walking horses or selling newspapers," said Sally.

"A lot of things are different nowadays. There are more things out there," she said. 

The last day of Longacres was like losing your home or family member, Steiner said. "You can still see Longacres; we knew they (Boeing) could never use all the property. It was hard to see it go. People lost so much when it closed, but Emerald Downs is a new beginning."

Emerald Downs will conclude its 16th season on Sunday, September 23, and the racetrack is slowly building its own history. 

Over the years Steiner has collected all things Longacres, from buttons, wallets, winner circle photos, ticket stubs, and racing forms. If it had Longacres on it, she had to have it. Even the old green wall that separated the crowd from the track now stands in the cafe's parking lot.

Her favorite Longacres piece? That's no question: it's the Longacres clock that hangs above the entrance to the kitchen. 

"When it was at Longacres at the main stable gate, it was the last thing you saw driving out of the track; but here it's the first thing you see coming in the Quarter Chute Cafe," she said.

With 59 years of Longacres' history, there is only one thing missing for Steiner: a museum. 

"It should be something that should be kept alive, the roots and traditions," she said. With the boxes at their East Renton home and the many more boxes in the back of the cafe, she wants to find a place where they can be showcased.

She admits she doesn't know how to go about getting a museum. Until then, she'll continue to showcase her collection on the ever-changing wall frames and inside the display cases at the Quarter Chute Cafe.

Steiner offers field trips to her grandchildren's classes to come to the Quarter Chute to learn the history and see the race track up close. 

"There were parents who were hesitating to allow their kids to go to a horse track, because of the gambling. But after the first year, just as many parents were coming than kids. They are excited to see what happens."

One change from Longacres to Quarter Chute Cafe is who can come in to dine. "At Longacres you had to know a jockey, trainer or owner to gain access. Here it’s the only cafe at a horse track that is open to the public," Sally said. "It's exciting to come in and enjoy the environment including the happenings of the track right in front of you," Sally said.

Access to the barn area is still off limits to the public, but you get to see the horses as they go to and from the track. "How many places have this kind of atmosphere?" she asked.

Steiner admits she visits the old track located on Longacres Drive from time to time. 

"I don't want to see the history go, it should be kept in peoples minds and be able to share and bring the old with the new." Steiner also shared that she never once saw a race from grandstands at Longacres. Instead, she always watched from the Backstretch, where the end of the race was called.

Its memories like these that Steiner — and others who lived to work at Longacres — will cherish for the rest of their lives.

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